Review by Sean Boelman
As a starring vehicle for the always magnificent Brian Cox (who is experiencing a career resurgence as of late thanks to his fan-favorite role in HBO’s Succession), the drama The Etruscan Smile is a welcome sight. Slight on every other level, this isn’t a film that will stick with viewers for long, but it’s definitely pleasant enough to be worth a watch.
The movie follows a rugged and aging Scotsman who moves to San Francisco in an attempt to seek better medical treatment and reconnect with his estranged son who recently became a father himself. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill geriatric drama, leaning on the talents and charm of its lead to have much of an effect at all.
Cox’s performance is clearly going to be the biggest draw of this film, and he is a great fit for the role. Although there are a few moments that are on the edge of feeling silly or maudlin, Cox is able to ground them with his ability to play off earnest emotion. His chemistry with JJ Feild — who plays his son — is fantastic as well.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that it can’t really decide what it wants to be. There are elements of a fish-out-of-water comedy, a dysfunctional family dramedy, a terminal illness drama, and even a late-life romantic comedy, and many of these threads feel underdeveloped because there is simply too much happening in the film.
Arguably the most rewarding and complete arc in the movie explores the protagonist’s relationship with his son. A lot of emotion can be derived from seeing the protagonist trying to pass on his culture and heritage to his son that obviously wants to connect but doesn’t know how. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see more from the son’s perspective, but there’s plenty here regardless.
The protagonist’s relationship with his grandson is less developed, but still mostly compelling. This portion of the film lends itself to a majority of the protagonist’s growth and will likely be the most sympathetic portion of the story for its target audience. Plus, it also provides some of the cutest moments.
That said, there are a few portions of the movie that aren’t as cohesive. The protagonist’s romance with a museum curator (played by a wasted Rosanna Arquette) is a non-starter, taking up runtime that could have been used by one of the other storylines. Troubles between the protagonist’s son and daughter-in-law are also hinted at but never explored.
The Etruscan Smile is a sweet little film with a great performance from Brian Cox. With theaters shut down at the moment, there has been a shortage of upscale adult-oriented fare, and this will fill the gap until something a bit more substantial makes its way to viewers.
The Etruscan Smile hits VOD on June 16.