By Lynn Venhaus
With its gorgeous setting, “Made in Italy” delivers on the breathtaking vistas. And there is an extra poignancy of the Neesons’ real tragedy played out in the mens’ emotional scenes.
The film, written and directed by actor James D’Arcy with loss in mind, is about an estranged father and son (real-life father and son Liam Neeson and Micheal Richardson) who travel from London to Italy to sell a Tuscan villa. Bohemian artist Robert Foster (Neeson) inherited this house from his late wife, and it has fallen into disrepair the last 15 years.
We have rooted for the father and son duo of Liam Neeson and Micheal Richardson in real life ever since the tragic death of wife and mother Natasha Richardson in 2009 during a skiing trip – Micheal was 13 and his younger brother Daniel 12. The men are playing guys who don’t get along, who have deep resentments, painful memories and are stuck in heartache.
We can identify with the turmoil. And as likeable as they are as people, the story is a routine family drama that is as predictable as a pasta dish at the local restaurant. Therefore, the pleasure is seeing Micheal — he took his late mother’s maiden name as his stage name — working alongside his father.
Not that the characters don’t have their charms. Neeson plays a still-grieving man who is stuck in regret and can’t start again, after a tragic accident took his wife. His life has no direction.
Jack is troubled but driven. He wants to keep the art gallery he managed for his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s family, but they want to sell it. Hence, the quick rehab job in Tuscany. However, being back at the place of both happy and sad childhood memories affects him.
The renovation do not go well. They are not equipped to handle the work but they persevere and take steps to mend their relationship. Along the way, there are bumps in the road, and they meet some colorful characters along the way. Lindsay Duncan plays a no-nonsense realtor named Kate, who becomes their ally, after initial trepidation.
While they are fixing up the place, Jack meets a local chef, Natalia (Valeria Bilello), who makes a killer risotto, and they are attracted to each other.
Composer Alex Belcher balances both the natural beauty with the family drama, and cinematographer Mike Eley captures the lush green hills in an appealing way.
The themes of family and home are stressed in D’Arcy’s debut. It’s just missing freshness and sincerity.
“Made in Italy” is a drama directed by James D’Arcy and stars Liam Neeson, Micheal Richardson, Valeria Bilello and Lindsay Duncan. It is rated R for language and run-time is 1 hr. 34 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B.
A version of this review ran in the Webster-Kirkwood Times.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.