The echoes of two actors’ shared reality lend unexpected emotional resonance to this engaging Tuscany travelogue, actor James D’Arcy’s (Agent Carter, Homeland) feature writing/directing debut. What might have been a slight relationship drama between a fractured father and son takes on real weight when the father is played by Liam Neeson and the son by his own progeny, Micheál Richardson. In a story that touches on a young adult feeling like he can never measure up to a celebrated parent, Richardson proves that is not an issue in the Neeson household.
There are eerie parallels in the situation between Jack (Richardson) and Robert (Neeson) and that of the actors that play them. Jack lost his mother and Robert his wife in a car crash when the boy was a child, just as a skiing accident claimed Richardson’s mother and Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, when Micheál was in middle school.
In Jack and Robert’s case, the death opened a chasm between them that neither now knows how to breach. Robert, a respected artist, simply stopped creating as grief consumed him. Jack, only seven when his mom died, can barely remember her or a time when he belonged to a happy family. He brings his father to their old Tuscan villa not to strengthen any familial bond but because he needs money and selling the property is his only prayer of getting it.
There is no mystery about where all this is going, but that scarcely matters. The views are stunning, the villa at the top of a hill overlooking a verdant valley. In contrast, the long-neglected villa is decrepit and full of weasels, but somehow no less charming for it. Selling the property is clearly the height of insanity, but can Jack see that?
Valeria Bilello (Sense8) plays Natalia, a restaurateur who catches Jack’s eye, while Lindsay Duncan is Kate, a realtor tasked with selling the house who just happens to be age appropriate for Robert. Father and son returned to England after the tragedy, never to look back until now. What remains unsaid could not be clearer: In Robert’s inability to cope with his loss head-on only made a bad situation that much worse for father and son. Jack, in his desire, for quick cash has inadvertently backed his father and himself into a long-delayed reckoning with the hole in their lives.
A syrupy score and an over-reliance on Italian pop grate on the soundtrack, but mostly Made in Italy floats on the strengths of its glorious setting, the amiability of its storytelling, and the strengths of its performances. In particular, Neeson father and son are terrific, a coup of casting for a first-time director that pays off in the rich emotional shadings they bring to their roles –Pam Grady
Made in Italy is playing in drive-ins, theaters, and digital and cable VOD platforms.