The film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or and had a positive critical response. At the 28th European Film Awards, Youth won Best Film, Best Director for Sorrentino, and Best Actor for Caine. It received one Academy Award nomination: Best Original Song, for David Lang's composition of "Simple Song #3". At the Golden Globe Awards, Lang was also nominated along with Jane Fonda for Best Supporting Actress.
Septuagenarian best friends Fred Ballinger and Mick Boyle are on vacation in the Swiss Alps, staying at a luxury resort. Fred is a retired composer of classical music; at the hotel, he is approached by an emissary for Queen Elizabeth II to perform his popular piece "Simple Song #3" at her husband Prince Philip's birthday concert. Fred turns down the offer, claiming he is not interested in performing any more – although he still composes pieces in his head when alone. Mick is a filmmaker, and is working with a group of writers to develop the screenplay for his latest film, which he calls his "testament". Also with them is actor Jimmy Tree, who is researching for an upcoming role and frustrated that he is only remembered for his role as a robot. The hotel is inhabited by other quirky individuals, including a young masseuse, an overweight Diego Maradona, and Miss Universe.
Fred and Mick reflect on their lives, admitting that their memories are fading and that they see little in their futures. Fred's daughter and assistant, Lena, is married to Mick's son, but the latter leaves her for pop star Paloma Faith. Lena stays at the resort and vents her anger at her father, who was always distant as she grew up. The emissary returns, and Lena cries as Fred explains that he won't perform "Simple Song" because the soprano part belongs only to his wife and she can no longer sing.
Mick completes his screenplay and is satisfied with it. The main role is written for aging diva Brenda Morel, who has starred in eleven of his previous films. Brenda surprises Mick by arriving at the resort, and telling him that she is taking a television role instead; cinema is the past, she says, and Mick hasn't made a good film in years. Disheartened, Mick jumps off a balcony in front of Fred. Fred decides to visit his wife for the first time in years. She is senile, and living at a care home in Venice. He then returns to the UK to conduct "Simple Song" in front of the Queen and Prince.
Interspersed throughout the film are surreal sequences, including a levitating monk, an imagined Paloma Faith music video, Jimmy dressed as Adolf Hitler, Fred conducting a field of cowbells, and Mick envisioning all his previous leading ladies on a mountaintop (including Brenda, in her new unglamorous TV role).
Youth is Sorrentino's second English-language film and the follow-up to his Academy Award-winning film The Great Beauty (2013). Principal photography began in Flims, Switzerland in May 2014. The primary location was the Waldhaus Flims, a 5-star hotel built in the nineteenth century, where the cast and crew all stayed while filming. Other scenes were filmed in Davos, Switzerland, particularly in the Hotel Schatzalp (the location of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain). Some filming was also done in Rome and Venice.
Sorrentino's regular cinematographer Luca Bigazzi returned to photograph the film. David Lang contributed in composing the film's music, including the piece "Simple Song #3" that is fictionally performed for Queen Elizabeth at the end. The scene was shot with soprano Sumi Jo, violinist Viktoria Mullova, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the Berlin Radio Choir.
Youth premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or, and was simultaneously released in Italy. The film was also selected for the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.Fox Searchlight distributed the film in the United States on 4 December 2015 in a limited release. It was released in the United Kingdom on 29 January 2016, by StudioCanal. By the end of its box office run, Youth had earned $24,035,045 worldwide.
Youth received positive reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 74% approval rating based on 195 reviews, with an average of 7 out of 10. The site's consensus reads, "Gorgeously filmed and beautifully acted, Youth offers an enticing – albeit flawed – opportunity to witness an impressive array of seasoned veterans combining their cinematic might." On Metacritic, the film has received a weighted average score of 64 out of 100 based on 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Youth is a film that goes its own way. Quixotic, idiosyncratic, effortlessly moving, it's as much a cinematic essay as anything else, a meditation on the wonders and complications of life, an examination of what lasts, of what matters to people no matter their age." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "a voluptuary’s feast, a full-body immersion in the sensory pleasures of the cinema", and praised Caine and Keitel's performances. Jay Weissberg of Variety described it as Sorrentino's "most tender film to date, an emotionally rich contemplation of life’s wisdom gained, lost, and remembered". In more mixed reviews, Robbie Collin of The Telegraph described the film as "gorgeous but chilly" and said it "never grasps its central theme", while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said it "has a wan eloquence and elegance, though freighted with sentimentality and a strangely unearned and uninteresting macho-geriatric regret for lost time."
Youth was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on March 1, 2016.