MADE IN ITALY
2020, R, 93 mins.
Liam Neeson as Robert / Valeria Bilello as Natalia / Micheál Richardson as Jack / Lindsay Duncan as KateWriting and directed by James D'Arcy
MADE IN ITALY is an unendingly charming and deeply personal drama made with an added aura of meta heartache and sorrow.
It stars real
life father and son tandem Liam Neeson and Michael Richardson playing a
fictional father and son tandem that are dealing with the tragic loss of
their wife/mother, who died in a hellish car accident.
Neeson's own wife and Richardson's mother, Natasha Richardson, very
famously perished in a 2009 skiing accident, which makes the whole
emotionally undercurrent of MADE IN ITALY all the more palpable.
There's nothing else inherently trend setting here in terms of
narrative trajectory (in
terms of being a story of a grieving father/son as well as a travelogue
film, a lot of the plot here sort of runs on predictable autopilot).
Still, it's the authenticity - born out of painful past occurrences
off camera - of the lead actors here that rule the day, and much like
another drama from earlier this year in ORDINARY
LOVE, it's a treat to see Neeson play tender roles outside of his
usual tough guy action hero facade.
Early on in the
film we're introduced to the financially struggling Jack (Richardson), who
runs a relatively small art gallery, albeit with some added complications
in the form of his business partner, who just so happens to be his wife
and is now filing for divorce. In an ultimate kick to the groin move, she tells Jack that
her majority owning family is going to sell the gallery, much to his
dismay. All poor Jack wants
to do is own the gallery outright and run it all on his own, but he's
seriously short on cash to step up to the plate and buy it our from his
soon-to-be-ex's family. Jack
has one ace up his sleeve in the form of a Tuscan villa that has been in
his dead mother's family for years, so he decides that the time is right
to sell it to the first prospective buyer and secure his art gallery
ownership dreams. And
besides, the villa has been unoccupied and collecting dust for years in
the aftermath of his mother's untimely passing.
Here's the thing,
though: Jack will need the obvious blessing and fix-it help of his
semi-estranged bohemian father, Robert (Neeson), who was once an extremely
talented artist that was poised for superstardom, but then let his work
slide after his wife's death. Now,
Robert is a pathetic skirt chaser that has little creative spark, let
alone any interest in revisiting the past by returning to the villa.
Nevertheless, Jack convinces Robert to come and help him, which be
begrudgingly does, and as the pair re-enter the villa they soon realize
that it's going to take an astounding amount of work to get it into
acceptable re-sell shape. That, and the more time they spend there the more agonizing
memories of their wife/mother come up to the surface. Jack finds some solace, though, in the form of Natalia
(Valeria Bilello), who in a rather contrived manner shows up in the film
with the screenplay requires a single and beautiful woman to fill the void
that Jack's wife left in his heart. That,
and she's the owner of a popular Italian restaurant that makes pasta to
Again, one of the
simple pleasures of MADE IN ITALY comes in the form of the incredibly
natural chemistry that industry veteran Neeson and his much more greenhorn
son in Richardson have on screen together, which, obviously enough, has
much to do with their real life relationship.
Actor turned writer/director James D'Arcy (making his filmmaking
debut here) clearly understands what this acting duo could bring to his
film, which is all but amplified by the grief they both experienced after
the death of Natasha Richardson. Kudos needs to be given to Neeson and his son, mostly because
not too many acting families would want to re-live out their own well
documented history of loss and suffering in a film that's written with
some eerie and too-close-to-home parallels.
Both the characters in MADE IN ITALY and the performers behind them
have had to endure unimaginable past tragedies, and the best moments of
the film cuts to the absolute core with an unflinching honesty.
It's probably not saying much to reveal that the much more famous
and experienced Neeson is the star attraction here (sometimes, the very
decent Richardson seems mightily overshadowed by his dear old dad), but
his work here shows that that near-70-year-old actor is just as nimble and
capable in roles that require a adept hand at drama and comedy as he is
playing hardened bad asses in the TAKEN series.
If I was Neeson talking to my agent I'd be like, "More of
D'Arcy also makes
a sumptuously gorgeous film on a level of pure eye candy.
MADE IN ITALY is a travelogue lover's wet dream, and the cameras
here are positively enamored with every sun-drenched Tuscan vistas
(cinematographer Mike Eley shoots the film like a nature documentary
throughout, which is definitely not a criticism, because MADE IN ITALY is
a work on endlessly lush and bright hued visual delights).
There's also an added layer of viewer melancholy while watching this
film, seeing as we're all trapped mostly at home and with travel gravely
restricted because of our current pandemic, making such real excursions to
places like Italy all but impossible for us now.
MADE IN ITALY, arguably more so now than it would have otherwise
under normal release circumstance, has an unintended and heightened level of
pure cinematic escapism in the way it transports you to a place none of us
can go to now.
D'Arcy's rookie efforts here at times come off
like the product of an inexperienced writer/director.
When one starts to look modestly at the basic storytelling on
display it becomes very easy to deduce exactly where this film is heading
(father and son will mend their broken relationship through the power of
rebuilding the villa and reminiscing on their shared memories of time
spent there with their wife/mother); no viewer will require any kind of
roadmap when it comes to steering through all of the family reconciling
dramatic conventions on display. On
top of that, the romantic subplot between Jack and Natalia (despite some
solid chemistry between the very likeable Richardson and Biello) is about
as cliché riddled as it gets, especially in the manner that she becomes
easy therapy for the approaching divorce settlement devastated Jack.
It's kind of a shame, because Biello in particular is a luminous
screen presence that could have an entire film built just around her and
her restaurant, but she's kind of stuck playing a plot driving device more
so than an actual flesh and blood person.
The actress just deserves better.
There are other elements that don't work so well either, like a recurring subplot involving some loathsomely self-serving and social media obsessed millennial buyers that are so unbearably over-the-top in their few scenes that they feel like they've been hijacked from a whole different film altogether. Ultimately, I probably shouldn't be recommending MADE IN ITALY, which stems mostly from some of its artificial writing and predictable nature, but it's pretty hard to overlook what a deeply intimate film this clearly was for its two stars. The film reminds viewers why Neeson is probably one of the finer and more versatile actors to have never won an Oscar, and the shared dynamic that he has with his son in Richardson is immediately a potent one on screen. And, damn, this film is jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at and makes one wish they could book a trip, hop on a plane, and journey to the heart of Tuscany. MADE IN ITALY isn't a fine cuisine, but it goes down satisfyingly easy and is worth a cheap VOD rental fee.