Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Great Beauty is a gorgeous ode to the towering city of Rome, a love letter straight from the heart of Paolo Sorrentino, written through tears of joy that garnish the wet ink. The director composes a symphony of pure affection, full of memories that make and break a life lived in a city that continues to thrive on such gracious charm and illustrious history.
Life in Rome is seen through the eyes of writer Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) a one-off successful novelist who never fulfilled his potential, choosing instead to live a decadent lifestyle amongst the rich and famous, giving himself to a life of partying. Now at 65 he begins to see a different view from inside his circle of friends, all of them clinging onto a way of life that burns with an energy way beyond their ability to keep pace with it.
Jep is the only one among them willing to embrace the shallowness of where life has led them, the vapid contradictions that sustain it. Botox is delivered like a sermon by the cosmetic clergy, euro house pumps through the marble halls, art serving as a function of status rather than expression. That is not say that everything is taken too seriously either as Sorrentino keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek to poke fun wherever needed.
The death of Jep's very first lover, back when he was a naive 20-year old boy, refreshes his perspective on what he may have missed and has to look forward to. He learns of her love for him despite her marriage to another man, 30 years passing since their relationship had ended. It revitalises a passion to write again and his outward musings lead him toward an understanding of seeing his past and future through the grandeur of the city around him.
Toni Servillo is a captivating watch whose weary eyed confident demeanour wins you over into his warm company. As he travels around the city visiting old haunts and friends he is accompanied by Sorrentino's expert control of the lens sweeping through the architecture. Rome becomes a painting from a dream, sumptuously shot to match the directors romantic vision. An ethereal score of choral and string sections enchance the graceful elegance of a modern society built in and around its glorious past.
La Grande Bellezza is one of the years truly beautiful films. Sorrentino has been compared with Fellini before now and this is his very own La Dolce Vita but one made very much in his own identity. It is the type of film to send you online looking for the next non-return flight to the Eternal City, allured by its decadence.