The unspoken grief keeping a father and son apart is what is at the focus of this gentle comedy drama, starring Liam Neeson alongside his actual son Micheál Richardson. Neeson and Richardson did, of course, suffer a real life tragedy when their wife and mother Natasha Richardson sadly passed away following a ski injury. The material here, then, in Made In Italy, undoubtedly would have spoken to the father-son pair on a deep personal level, but sadly the film doesn’t quite have the material to back them up.
Richardson plays Jack, a young art gallery manager who is about to go through a divorce. Keen to keep hold of the gallery, Jack convinces his father, reclusive artist Robert (Neeson) to sell their old family home in Tuscany. The house has sat abandoned since a tragic accident took the life of Jack’s mother when he was very young. Together, the estranged father-son pair head back to Italy to repair the house for potential buyers, leading them on the pair on the path to piecing their relationship back together.
Made In Italy marks actor James D’Arcy’s directorial and screenplay debut. As a result, the script in particular often feels as though it needs to fall back on family comedy cliches, never quite feeling sure of itself as it approaches its tale of family tragedy. The central metaphor is of course quite obvious, but it does set the stage quite well for the drama to have some raw observations about grief, particularly considering the central actorly pairing. But often the film seems to take a step back from truly getting beneath the skin of Jack and Robert. It relies a little too much on its two stars to add the oomph to some pretty thin material, and while they certainly try to lift it, they can’t quite escape the dialogue’s awkward nature.
Neeson and Richardson’s chemistry does suffer as a result of the screenplay that they both often feel a bit too shackled to. There is undoubtedly a warmth between the pair that you just can’t fake, but the story itself doesn’t offer enough convincing drama to work as a vessel of catharsis for the characters and the audience. This is particularly the case when it comes to balancing new romance subplots with the story of a father and son repairing their relationship. It all sticks too close to other dramas of its kind, making it all largely predictable, quite treacly and a little dull. Everything is played with a sweet sincerity, but it is in service of a screenplay that would rather fall back on cliche as it struggles to penetrate much beyond the surface.
D’Arcy is much more successful when it comes to visual direction. Yes, some framings drive some of the obvious metaphors a little too hard, but he makes sure to embrace the warmth of the film’s Tuscan setting. It certainly does help that he is shooting in a beautiful part of the world, and makes sure to mine the vistas for all their postcard aesthetic potential. It will certainly make you pine for a holiday in the sun, if you weren’t doing that already.
Made In Italy is a sweet film with some warm performances, but it is hard to deny the fact that it falls short of developing insightful drama on the subject of grief. There are some nice moments between Neeson and Richardson that approach more intriguing ideas, particularly around notions of a misplaced sense of manhood and how that factors in a mishandling of grief. The moments where they finally do open up to each other strike at a genuine sense of emotion that much of the rest of the film struggles to achieve. But these moments are sadly fleeting, making you crave a bit more sustenance as you stand out there in the admittedly beautiful Tuscan sun.
Made In Italy is available on Amazon Prime Video from March 26th 2021.