I’ve been in the mood for films that transport me… given the nature of the pandemic that grounds most of us. So when there’s a screener for Made In Italy available, I jumped at the chance to see it. It’s also a unique film where Liam Neeson plays a father who isn’t rescuing his child from some criminals or exacting wrathful revenge of some kind.
I’m also intrigued by the fact that the writer/director is British actor James D’Arcy in his feature film debut. It’s a father-son relationship dramedy where the son character is played by Neeson’s real life eldest-born, Micheál Richardson. Side note: Apparently, Micheál changed his surname to Richardson in 2018 to commemorate the memory of his late mother Natasha Richardson. Now, it’s worth pointing out that this plot has an eerie resemblance to their own personal story.
Neeson stars as Robert Foster, a bohemian painter who’s now living as a recluse and estranged from his gallery-manager son Jack. In desperate need of cash, Jack and Robert takes a trip to their Tuscan home to try to sell the house. As it turns out, the once beautiful villa on a hill is now in a sorrow state of disrepair. The two had to work together to figure out a way to restore the home in a relatively short amount of time, which proves to be quite an insurmountable challenge at first given neither of them is particularly handy.
The restoration theme is obviously a metaphor for the restorative story between the father and son. It’s revealed when they arrive in Italy that the villa once belong to Robert’s deceased wife whose ‘presence’ linger throughout the movie despite the character never being shown. Robert is still haunted by the memory of her as well as the house, while Jack feels he’s so disconnected to his own family, for reasons that is later revealed in a rather melodramatic episode.
Now, I think this film certainly tackles some heavy themes of loss, regret, reconciliation, etc. but at times the comedic tone makes it more flippant than it should be. Even Lindsay Duncan‘s character Kate, a British ex-pat who now makes a living selling Tuscan villas, has a rather somber past, but most of her scenes are so playful, even frivolous. I do adore Lindsay and she’s a great actress, so this jarring tonality is more of the fault of the director. The one issue I have is the seemingly tacked-on romance between Jack and a local restaurant owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello) that I feel is completely unnecessary and utterly predictable.
It’s obvious that D’Arcy is still new in his directing craft, certain moments feels off both in the way the scene plays on, especially in the emotionally-heavy scene between the father and son. The rom-com trappings abound in the romantic scenes, complete with characters ‘falling’ into a lake and promptly start kissing… which is my pet peeve in movies that automatically assume people would get all warm and fuzzy when they’re all drenched to the bone!
The gorgeous Tuscan location certainly helps in the escapism factor, and I appreciate the chemistry of the two central characters. Perhaps because of their own personal connections, to each other AND to the story of loss (of a wife and mother) that must have resonated well with them, I enjoy watching Neeson and Richardson together. They’d been in a movie together, but never in such capacity where they share almost every scene together. Richardson holds his own against his more experienced dad, and it’s nice to see Neeson’s dramatic and softer side. To be fair, he started out as a dramatic actor before TAKEN launched him into a full-blown action star.
All in all, it’s not the best or most memorable films set in Italy. I think given the inherently poignant story, it could’ve been more meaty and heart-wrenching instead of a frothy movie with a few overly melodramatic moments peppered in. That said, I still think this is a pretty decent debut from D’Arcy. The restorative theme is one that anyone can relate or at least identify with, and the performances of the two central cast made their journey worth watching.
Have you seen MADE IN ITALY? Well, what did you think?