On paper, this movie looked promising. Director Paolo Sorrentino gave us the beautiful film This Must Be the Place and the Academy Award-winner The Great Beauty.
This movie stars Michael Caine as a retired conductor who is being pressured to do his famous pieces for the Queen of England.
He’s good friends with Harvey Keitel, who plays a famous director who is at the sanatorium/resort in the Swiss Alps working with his screenwriters. A few other famous folks are staying there. Paul Dano, in a role that Johnny Depp would’ve been perfect for, is an actor that is observing folks for research on a role. He’s most well-known for playing a robot named “Mr. Q” and he hates the people that come up to him wanting to discuss the role. Of course, when a Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea) comes to talk to him about it he insults her. It’ll be the last time we see her with clothes on because…well, I don’t know why. I’m not complaining, she’s gorgeous. I just want these things to make sense, and the director doesn’t really care if it does.
There’s also a former soccer star, who is so fat you’d mistake him for a sumo wrestler, and a few other residents you can’t figure out. A woman wearing a hijab, an older couple that never speak (which gives Caine and Keitel a cute running gag betting on whether the next dinner will be the one that gets them into a conversation). And when we see that couple finally have an interaction, it’s mildly amusing. When we see them having sex a few scenes later, you just check out completely. The movie is just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre. Sorrentino is like an Italian Wes Anderson. He just gives us beautiful images (the film is shot gorgeously), that often make very little sense. It’s lazy writing and highly derivative (will anybody else think of Birdman when we see the monk levitating at the end of the film?).
The various vignettes could’ve been interesting. A few conversations are, but most aren’t. In one powerful scene, Caine is explaining why he refuses to perform his famous “Simple Songs.” It’s touching. It’s also nice to see the chemistry he has with his best friend.
Helen Mirren played an over-the-top gossip columnist in Trumbo that was fun. Well, Jane Fonda plays an over-the-top diva, who had won a few Oscars and is starring in Keitel’s latest movie. The scene with her is painfully bad.
The music in the movie is interesting. Singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, the Retrosettes, and Florence and the Machine all sound great. We hear some Stravinsky (they mention Fred Ballinger having known him), and British pop star Paloma Faith has a few songs, and also plays a mistress that ends the marriage of Rachel Weisz’ character.
Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi is outstanding, and can frame images in a lovely manner. It’s just a shame this movie is such a pretentious mess.
It gets 1 1/2 stars out of 5. Opening here on the same weekend as Star Wars probably won’t hurt the box office, as this is the type of movie that attracts a completely different audience.