Admittedly, the prospect of watching a film starring Liam Neeson and his real-life son, Michael Richardson (whose mother, Natasha Richardson, died in 2009) as an estranged father and grown son whose wife/mother died years earlier is an interesting one if only for the inherent drama of the set up. I could imagine Neeson and his son tapping into some very raw feelings regarding losing Richardson and allowing the loss to cripple them and their relationship. But Made In Italy, the writing/directing debut from actor James D’Arcy, has a slightly different agenda, one that cushions any potentially hard-hitting emotional content in favor of a cutesy travelogue in Tuscany and artificial plot constructs that result in a very pretty film with a divided heart.
Richardson plays Jack, who runs a London art gallery—a position given to him by his wife and her family. Unfortunately, Jack and his wife are on the verge of divorce, and he must either give up the job or buy the business from his wife. He chooses the second option, but with no real money to his name, Jack turns to his father Robert (Neeson), a once-celebrated artist who effectively stopped painting when his wife died in a car accident in Italy, where the couple had a vacation home in Tuscany. Inherited from the wife’s family, the house has gone to ruin, and Jack wants to fix it up and sell it, using the profits to buy the gallery. Robert agrees at first, but in the process, he rediscovers the place and its many memories, making it difficult to let go, especially when he considers starting to paint once again.
The two have a few fights about how Robert never talked to his son about their shared loss, leaving Michael alone at such a young age, but Made In Italy seems to care more about these two men making romantic connections among the locals. Jack begins to spend time with local restaurant owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello), a single mother with no interest in the secrets these men are keeping from each other. Jack hasn’t told Robert about his impending divorce, and Robert hasn’t told Jack that in a secret room in the house rest photos and other mementos of his mother that he really could have used growing up motherless. Meanwhile, Robert becomes flirty with their real estate agent, Kate (Lindsay Duncan), a post-divorce ex-pat attempting to start a new life and slowly discovering that there isn’t such a thing except in books and movies. It’s all sickeningly adorable.
You almost get the sense that director D’Arcy wants to go a little harder into the hurt these two men are feeling, but for some reason the writer side of him wimps out when we’re craving to see something more heartfelt. Not to say that there aren’t moments that come close to emotional honesty—and those scenes are good—but they are so scattered in this otherwise pretty tame work that they feel out of place instead of the thing that propels the drama. Being honest, I could watch Neeson in just about anything. He’s a compelling, highly watchable actor who commands the screen even when he isn’t trying—and in this film, there isn’t a great deal of competition. But this material simply doesn’t give him much to cling to or us much to care about, and the result is a middling family drama with some lovely scenery to distract us.
The film is now available on PVOD.
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