TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
"We are all extras. All we have is emotions." ~ Mick Boyle
I felt a bit numb as this film ended. It's a powerful drain on the emotions. Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino takes us through end-of-life journeys with aged filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) and retired conductor-composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), both close to 80 years old, as they holiday at a Swiss resort. Mick and Fred are more than decades-long friends. They chased after the same girls in their youth, maintained a bond throughout their successful careers, and their children married each other, Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) to Julian Boyle (Ed Stoppard).
But summer at the spa in Switzerland is nowhere near as restful as it might be. Mick is struggling with a group of writers to complete his magnum opus for the screen. Fred is dodging requests from the Queen's Emissary (Alex Macqueen) to be knighted and conduct a command concert for the birthday of Prince Philip, and Julian has taken up with pop star Paloma Faith (herself) and looking toward divorce.
Some of the side stories here are almost as fascinating as the central plot. Resort guest Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) is working up to a dramatic role that he hopes will redefine his career; soccer great Diego Maradona (Roly Serrano) is an obese, short-of-breath ghost of himself trying to survive day to day; Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea) comes to visit and must establish her identity beyond her physical beauty; and there's even a Buddhist Monk (Dorji Wangchuk) trying to levitate.
Add to those characters a masseuse into her body and dance (Luna Zimic Mijovic), a mountain-climbing instructor named Luca Moroder (Robert Seethaler), and diva actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda), and you've got the makings for a complete circus of humanity. Doubtless, that's exactly what Sorrentino had in mind, as he plays with our heartstrings while making us laugh loudly en route to that numbing finish and the Oscar-nominated Best Original Song, "Simple Song #2" by David Lang.
Sorrentino was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, while Fonda caught a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I've still got a ways to go till I reach eight decades, but I could certainly empathize with the themes of aging, youth, memory, love, loss and career that dominate this film. Once again, Sorrentino amazes. Is there anything he doesn't do wonderfully?