Review by Sean Boelman
The main draw of James D’Arcy’s directorial debut Made in Italy will be getting to see Liam Neeson act alongside his real-life first-born Michaél Richardson act as a father-and-son duo. Apart from that, the film is a sweet if unexceptional story about family bonding, complete with the expected brilliant Italian scenery.
The movie follows a father and son who travel to their now dilapidated summer home in Italy to repair and sell it, coming across old memories and discovering flaws in their relationship in the process. For what is basically an acting showcase, D’Arcy’s story is surprisingly compelling, although it is obvious that he was less concerned with narrative originality than getting strong performances out of his stars.
There are essentially four main storylines in the film: selling the house, the father-son relationship, the father dealing with his grief, and a romantic subplot for the son. It’s a lot to contain within a movie that’s a little over ninety minutes long, and the movie does feel overstuffed at times, but there’s a lot more working for it than against it.
The romantic subplot is clearly the least relevant of the storylines, but actress Valeria Bilello, who plays the love interest, is a welcome addition to the cast. The grief storyline is arguably the one with the most untapped potential, as it shows the promise to be emotionally moving but is often cut away from in favor of other threads.
The film’s tone is also quite uneven. At times, it seems to be trying to be a hard-hitting story about grief and coping with the past, and the next moment it will be a jovial fish-out-of-water comedy about a clueless father and son trying to complete home renovations. Some of these shifts are quite jarring.
Neeson and Richardson have expectedly great chemistry together, and although the dynamic that is written between them is rather clichéd, their performances breathe a lot of life and authenticity into it. Between this and Ordinary Love, it is nice to see Neeson returning to more vulnerable material as of late.
The movie is also very strong visually. Even though this is D’Arcy’s debut, he has a surprisingly accomplished visual style. Of course, the Italian countryside is absolutely gorgeous in more ways than one, and the cinematography by Mike Eley captures it well. There is one shot (and it’ll be easy to figure out which one) that is probably one of the most beautiful single frames of the year so far.
Made in Italy doesn’t have the strongest or most original script, but the performances and direction make it worth a watch. James D’Arcy will be an absolutely wonderful filmmaker, especially if he gets the chance with some even more substantial material.
Made in Italy hits theaters and VOD on August 7.