Considering the world is in such a dark place right now, it is refreshing whenever a sweet, heartfelt, genuine father and son story comes out to put a smile on our faces, reminding us what happiness feels like.
Set to release on Friday, August 7th courtesy of IFC Films, notable Actor James D’Arcy makes his directorial debut with Made in Italy. A heart-warming father and son story set in glorious Tuscany about bohemian London Artist Robert (Liam Neeson: Schindler’s List 1993, The Grey 2011), who returns to Italy with his estranged son Jack (Micheál Richardson: Vox Lux 2013, Cold Pursuit 2019) to make a quick sale of the house they inherited from his late wife. Neither expects to find the once beautiful villa in such a state of disrepair…
That in mind, renovations go badly, with Robert and Jack soon finding themselves at odds. Robert’s comical lack of DIY experience leads him to seek help from some colorful locals including the no nonsense Kate (Lindsay Duncan: About Time 2013, Gifted 2017), an ex-pat making her living selling villas who quickly captures his attention. For Jack, the state of the house seems to mirror his search for memories of happier times with his mother.
Jack soon falls for Natalia (Valeria Bilello: One Chance 2013, Sense8 series), a vivacious young Italian chef, who restores both body and soul with delights from her local trattoria; that is until the pair find their developing relationship in jeopardy from Natalia’s jealous and threatening ex-husband. As Robert and Jack painstakingly restore the villa to its previous glory, they also start to mend their relationship. The future may now look quite different and surprise them both.
Now on the positive side, Liam Neeson is as terrific and commanding on screen as you would imagine. In fact it is nice to see him go back to his roots of playing real life human beings instead of toting guns and beating up bad guys for once. However, right from his character’s intro, we struggle to find sympathy for him. He sleeps around with various women, which he never remembers the names of; including his own late wife who he goes out of his way to refer to as “My wife” or “My son’s mother.” Overall, Neeson brilliantly make you feel and emotionally understand such a flawed, damaged person by the end of its 94 minute runtime.
As far as the other actors, they are all fine. This includes Neeson’s real son, Micheál Richardson, who is perfectly fine, though a little overly dramatic at times, playing on screen son, Robert. This is while Valeria Bilello is charming and beautiful as Jack’s potential love interest. Furthermore, Lindsey Duncan, who reminds you of a young Helen Mirren at times, but does not have nearly as much screen time as she deserves.
The problem with Made in Italy is not the acting however, but it really comes down to the film-making and the script. It is not that it is bad, it is just average. It is sort of flat and a little uninspiring. Perfectly fine for a random Sunday afternoon but not much more. It is riddled with cliches and on the nose moments of dialogue and music. It almost feeling like deleted scenes from 2003’s Under the Tuscan Sun. Remember that one?
Overall, Made in Italy is a harmless, if unspectacular, first directorial effort. It is not trying to reinvent the wheel, nor is it trying to deliver some big message about the world. It is just a simple father and son story that stumbles here and there, but in the end, will make you feel good. Besides, isn’t that the biggest feeling we need to have right now? That is why Cryptic Rock gives Made in Italy 3 out of 5 stars.