Film Review – Made In Italy (2020)
Made in italy, 2020.
Directed by James D’Arcy.
With Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Valeria Bilello, Lindsay Duncan and Yolanda Kettle.
In the midst of a divorce, a man decides to renovate and sell the Italian villa he owns with his father.
There are few things less exciting than a movie about extremely privileged people pretending to be in trouble. Fortunately, despite its warm appearance and wine attributes on the terrace, Made in italy is not this movie. Veteran actor James D’Arcy’s directorial debut is an intimate and often light-hearted study of grief and family – though we largely feel like we’ve seen it a few times before.
It gets a boost, however, thanks to a clever cast. At the heart of the story is a father-son duo, with Liam Neeson alongside his real son Micheál Richardson. The latter plays Jack, who wants to raise funds to buy the art gallery where he works from the father of the woman he is divorcing. In order to find the funds, Jack approaches the artist Robert’s father with the idea of selling the increasingly decrepit Italian villa of which they are co-owners. The building, however, is as full of painful reminders as it is dust and tattoos, bringing out the tensions and memories surrounding the tragic death years earlier of Robert’s wife – Jack’s mother.
Obviously there is an added dimension to the cast here given the accidental death of Natasha Richardson – Neeson’s wife and Micheál’s mother – in a skiing accident in 2009. There is real sadness at the heart of these performances, with very real emotions oozing through the artifice of the film. Father and son have a nice chemistry on the screen, which they laugh at each other – Neeson fills in the silences by asking questions about ‘manga hentai’, which you shouldn’t google at work – or by sharing their most intimate insecurities.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a model for parent-child bonding. When we meet these two, they experience a prickly sort of alienation, the pain of their grief not being recognized in a very believable way given the longstanding refusal of men to face emotional vulnerability. Despite this truth, the film, which D’Arcy also scripted, feels trapped within the confines of a sweet Sunday afternoon viewing and therefore never confronts the rawness and dark emotion that lurks just beneath its surface. .
The approach is so serious and light that it gets in its own way. Neeson’s performance is sensitive and well observed in a way that reminded me of his similar turn in the very top Ordinary love, but this scenario does not have the teeth of this elegant domestic drama. D’Arcy also kicks off a romantic subplot between Richardson’s character and Italian restaurateur Natalia (Valeria Bilello) that doesn’t ring true and looks like a distraction. So is the thrill between Neeson and their real estate agent, described by reliable Lindsay Duncan.
Ultimately, Made in italy is simply too harmless to fully face its themes. While he should aim for the emotional jugular, he falls back on safer, more conventional ground. What could have been something memorably powerful is instead just a comfortable comedy-drama with a handful of laughs and the occasional flashes of real emotional truth. For many viewers, this will be exactly what they want it to be – an undemanding Sunday afternoon movie to enjoy with a cup of tea and a Bourbon cookie – but it could have been something far more special.
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Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow it on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for opinions on movies, wrestling stuff and word games.