*** (out of four)
If you’re looking for a fun night out, Italy’s hottest movie is “The Great Beauty.” It has everything: a 104-year-old nun who eats only roots. A 40-something stripper whose boss is her dad. A vanishing giraffe. A religious guy who looks like skinny Tom Colicchio. And a 60-year-old little person who salutes viewing the world from a child’s perspective.
In fact, the Golden Globe-nominated, Oscar-shortlisted film isn’t as unusual as it sounds. Often resembling an unofficial update to Federico Fellini’s 1960 classic “La Dolce Vita,” the Rome-set “Beauty” stylishly observes as veteran fluff journalist/one-time novelist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) realizes that at 65, his high society life is no longer satisfying. (Who wouldn’t want to interview a performance artist who disrobes to bash her head against a bridge?) So he determines he’ll now only do things he wants to do—oddly, this means ducking out on a woman he’s slept with just before she shows him naked pictures—and begins a brief, borderline platonic affair with stripping artist Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli).
Director/co-writer Paolo Sorrentino (“This Must Be the Place”) delivers so many gorgeous images, drifting over Jep’s Colosseum-adjacent rooftop and sliding through lively, somewhat hollow parties, that it’s tempting to ignore the film’s obvious points about the arts community’s frequent pretentiousness and the emptiness of long-time debauchery. Nowhere does “Beauty” deconstruct the futility of Jep’s search for wonder. There’s only an acknowledgment of certain extreme ways to live.
There’s a wide gulf between the unfulfilling, surface pleasures of “The Great Gatsby,” the cheap/pricey/shallow indulgences of “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the influential, existential inquiry of “La Dolce Vita.” That’s where “Beauty” falls: It’s a seductive, woeful meditation on phony efforts and the challenge of living for the moment. On that note, go see “Her,” if you haven’t already. Or even if you have.
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