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For the Codgers in Youth, Growing Old Doesn’t Suck

The latest from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is a well acted and visually striking meditation on guilt, grief, mortality, and loneliness that also somehow manages to be uplifting.
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If wisdom comes with age, then it makes sense that Youth is a smart and stylish celebration of growing old gracefully.

The latest from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) is a well acted and visually striking meditation on guilt, grief, mortality, and loneliness that also somehow manages to be uplifting.

Fred (Michael Caine) is an acclaimed British composer and conductor who is taking his annual vacation at a posh resort in the Alps with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), an American film director with a checkered history of success.

The two are at different stages in their respective careers. Fred is retired and has no desire to perform again for personal reasons that eventually become clear, and he adamantly rejects an offer from Buckingham Palace officials to return for a ceremonial concert in exchange for knighthood. Meanwhile, Mick is trying to perfect the script for his latest project with a fledgling group of young writers that can’t seem to find the right ending.

As they interact with a quirky assortment of vacationers including an eccentric actor (Paul Dano) and an alluring supermodel, each man carries cynicism stemming from past regrets that have left them practically estranged from their children. In Fred’s case, his attempts to reconcile with his visiting daughter (Rachel Weisz) provide some measure of catharsis.

The old pros that they are, Caine and Keitel develop a convincing rapport as their characters grapple with fading memories and failing health, but retain their sardonic wit and artistic enthusiasm. Their ability to find layers of strength and vulnerability in their performances seems almost effortless. Meanwhile, Jane Fonda has a memorable cameo appearance as a washed-up diva.

Even if his visual approach sometimes borders on ostentatious, Sorrentino generates some lovely imagery as the film drifts in and out of an almost dreamlike trance linking fantasy and reality, and past and present.

Youth moves at a leisurely pace, like its protagonists. While not as glamorous or profound as it aspires to be, the lightly plotted film is most effective in its quieter, more intimate moments. Heartfelt, contemplative, and also darkly funny, the result isn’t depressing but rather inspiring.

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