'The Great Beauty' review: What's Italian for 'Looks aren't everything'?

'The Great Beauty'

'The Great Beauty' (December 30, 2013)

*** (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.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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