Paolo Sorrentino's follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, Youth, is set in an Alpine spa for the very rich and famous. Here where the air is crisp and good for the lungs, movie stars, celebrated composers, legendary screenwriters, and Saudi princes with lots of petro dollars to spend are rubbed, bathed, muddied, monitored, entertained, and sometimes fucked by the spa's staff. The resort also has Buddhist monks for those with spiritual needs.
The film's three main characters—Fred (Michael Caine), his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), and his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel)—mostly talk about the past (Mick once had sex with someone Fred desired, Lena hates the way her father treated her dead mother, Mick recalls the first time he learned to ride a bicycle) while walking down country roads, or sunbathing beside the sparkling pool or hot tubs, or relaxing in their elegant rooms. Mick and Fred also talk a bit about the frustrating urinary condition they share.
The film makes several attempts to excite our interest, but only one works. It's when the massive body of a middle-aged man emerges from a swimming pool. He has a cap on his head and a huge tattoo of Karl Marx on his back. He can barely breathe and needs assistance to reach a sunbathing chair. This man is supposed to be the former football superstar Diego Maradona (the real Maradona has a tattoo of Che Guevara on his arm). The moment the fictional Maradona is out of the pool and plodding to the chair, you want to follow him for the rest of the movie.
Fred, Lena, and Mick are not interesting characters; nothing about their appearance stands out, and their problems (infidelity, betrayal, alienation) are all very bland. None of them holds your attention like the big belly of the former footballer. Somewhere beneath it is buried the youth who dazzled the world with his dribbling and goal-scoring skills. This Maradona almost never says a word during the film, which is terribly sad because one feels he is the only person who has a real story to tell.
In the end, Youth, like Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, is the work of a second-rate Fellini.