‘Where does the time go?’ ponders ageing musical maestro Fred (Michael Caine) in director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest epic, surreal, loopy slice of life less ordinary.
It isn’t so much that Fred is having a late-life crisis it’s just the last time he looked he was in his thirties and now, tuning around again, he finds himself in his eighties at a luxury spa in the Swiss Alps, not quite knowing how it happened and chewing the elderly fat with his best mate, film-director Mick (Harvey Keitel).
Other guests are similarly puzzled at the place (physical and metaphorical) they find themselves occupying including an actor getting into character for his next role (Paul Dano), a terrifyingly obese ex-footballer (is it really Maradona?) and Fred’s daughter (Rachel Weisz), recently jilted by her husband for none other than Paloma Faith.
Through a series of musical interludes, script development meetings, dips in the pool, physical therapy sessions and unwelcome interruptions (including a visit from the Queen’s emissary asking/imploring Fred to conduct one last concert in her presence) the two old friends wonder what happens to youth and our younger selves – do they just disappear as we age?
Other topics covered in more or less detail include loyalty to one’s creative co-workers (a vitriolic scene between Mick and his actress muse played by a scary-looking Jane Fonda) and the forfeiting of quality time with loved ones in order to follow one’s muse; in Fred’s case music. In one extraordinary passage, which consists of a prolonged close-up on Rachel Wiesz’s face, she lambastes her father for putting his musical career before his wife and family, revealing a level of seething resentment that’s bordering on the manic.
It all looks incredible and Caine really is just getting better and better with age, but Sorrentino does not believe in following a logical narrative and the result is sometimes quite brilliant, other times bonkers and in between a tad boring.
One has to admire the scope of his imaginative flights of fancy but having to process them all in one two hour chunk is enough to have the viewer longing for some time off at that Swiss spa themselves.