Made in Italy
IFC FILMS (2020)
Director: James D'Arcy
Starring: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Valeria Bilello, Lindsay Duncan
Made in Italy, the directorial debut from James D’Arcy, promised a heartwarming comedic drama set in the impossibly beautiful Tuscany. Liam Neeson stars as Robert Foster, a reclusive artist, and Micheál Richardson - Neeson’s real-life son – plays his on-screen son Jack, a man struggling to accept his impending divorce and the looming sale of the art studio he manages from over his head. In order to raise the required funds to buy the studio outright, Jack ropes his father into travelling to Tuscany to renovate the decrepit home Robert inherited from his late wife, Rafaella, with a view to a quick sale.
Of course, things aren’t so straightforward. The house really is decrepit and on its last legs, Jack stumbles across Natalia (Bilello), a pretty restaurant owner and is immediately smitten, the studio is being fast-tracked for a sale, Robert just acts weird a lot of the time and being back in Tuscany opens up some childhood wounds for Jack. Both men are missing something from their lives since the passing of Rafaella and D’Arcy does his best to convey this in a variety of ways - there’s a lot going on. However, at ninety-minutes, Made in Italy is just the right length which is a blessing as it’s not very good. It’s everything you’d expect from a comedy with a plot like this. It’s extremely formulaic and you’ll predict what’s to come fairly early on meaning nothing comes as a surprise thus the enjoyment factor begins to ebb away. To further aid the slip, the acting is markedly iffy throughout - Liam Neeson really stands out amongst those around him for better and worse – better because he’s the veteran lead actor and worse because it really highlights the shortcomings of pretty much everyone around him. Richardson just doesn’t have the charisma or the current (acting) ability to plumb the required emotional depths required to sell his role which comes across more mopey and arrogant as opposed to sympathetic and grieving. Valeria Bilello does her best to elevate a hamstrung role but never really excels – it’s average across the board from pretty much everyone and don’t get me started on the potential house buyers towards the end of the movie (please, don’t, it’s cringe-inducing to remember). Major moments are played out like adolescent playground drama rather than the crushing emotional gut-punches D’Arcy was aiming for and the writing does him no favours despite being written by...him. It’s seemingly part-autobiographical for D’Arcy (as well as for Neeson and Richardson who lost wife and mother Natasha Richardson in 2009), however, that can’t prevent the writing from being stilted and, overall, it’s not great. The stronger scenes in Made in Italy are those with no dialogue – a particularly strong moment later in the movie with Jack discovering his father’s hidden and more personal artwork starts off excellently but crumbles once dialogue is required. Of course, comedies must also be judged on their ability to deliver laughs and Made in Italy really doesn’t deliver here either – slapstick falls and hollow gags consistently fall short and find themselves taking greater precedence over subtle remarks and comedic timing leaving a rather unfunny spectacle.
D’Arcy and DoP Mike Eley do capture the intense beauty of Tuscany very well – the rolling hills, the famous Cypress trees and the stone walls adorned with eye-catchingly bright flowers combine to create a wonderful advert for the region and I can’t imagine the cast and crew had anything other than a joyful time working in such conditions. If that were the case, that joy just doesn’t bleed into the on-screen proceedings and Made in Italy is sumptuous to look at but is lacking in pretty much every other aspect – drama, comedy, performances and the promise of being heartwarming.
August 3rd 2020