What do mordant Cockney overlord Michael Caine, disgraced Argentian footballer Diego Maradona and kooky British singer Paloma Faith have in common? They’re all in Paolo Sorrentino’s latest ode to art and ageing – and, frankly, they could all do a bit better. Sorrentino crafts lush, Fellini-esque tales of Italian high society (see The Great Beauty), but something’s lost in translation in this English-language effort.
Eminent composer Caine and his best friend, film director Harvey Keitel, are holed up in a Swiss spa meditating on mortality as Caine resists a royal entreaty to play his most famous work, Simple Songs, for the queen citing “personal reasons”. Before we learn what these are – and long after we care – we’re offered what amounts to a gilded Waiting For Godot with only some striking imagery, the muesli advert surrounds and Jane Fonda’s feisty cameo to recommend it. Rachel Weisz, as Caine’s daughter, is uncharacteristically irritating; Faith, characteristically so; Maradona, excruciating, and there are long passages of saggy letchery as our heroes contemplate the naked bodies around them while swapping urination stories.
Worst of all, it’s tongue-swallowingly pretentious. Keitel’s coterie of bored screenwriters comment on the action like a Greek chorus, Paul Dano (complete with a terrible fake moustache) pops up as the archetypal bored actor, and the leads indulge in the sort of navel-gazing both have rejected throughout their distinguished careers. One scene shows an inexperienced violinist massacring Simple Songs with poor technique. Sorrentino’s film has the opposite problem: a director with all the skills, but nothing to play but tired variations on a theme.
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