Stream It or Skip It?

By z20z.com 7 Min Read

Made in Italy allows Liam Neeson to take a break from on-screen crimes, revenge, and alcoholism, sending his painter character to Tuscany to fix up an old family home with his semi-estranged grown son – played by Neeson’s real-life son Micheál Richardson. It’s possible that the experience was more meaningful for their family than it will be for some viewers, but it’s a watchably low-key-drama for fans of the actor — and one that’s sitting atop the Netflix Top 10 movies list.

The Gist: Jack (Micheál Richardson), in the midst of a divorce, is desperate to buy the art gallery he manages from his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s family. To make some money in short order, he hopes to fix up and sell his family home in Italy, which has been abandoned since the death of his mother, many years ago. Jack enlists the help of his semi-estranged father Robert (Liam Neeson), a once-promising painter who hasn’t been able to finish new work in years. Though the project gets off to a predictably rocky start, it comes together with predictably heartwarming results, as the two men confront their long-deferred grief, and Jack meets Natalia (Valeria Bilello), a gifted local chef. Will Jack and Robert ultimately embrace what matters most, or will their grief and resentments continue to fester for decades more to come?

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: If you’ve seen the 2001 drama Life as a House, with Kevin Kline and Hayden Christensen, the bones of this material may be familiar, though there’s obviously less of a coming-of-age angle here. There are also shades of male-rejuvenation travelog romances like A Good Year, with Neeson’s fellow gravitas-haver Russell Crowe, though Made In Italy serves its romance as more of a side dish.

Photo: Everett Collection

Performance Worth Watching: As with his thrillers, it’s Neeson’s presence that occasionally makes this small-scale project feel like a real movie. This is obviously meaningful material for Neeson’s family; his wife, the actress Natasha Richardson, died at age 46 as a result of a skiing accident, and since then, Neeson has clearly been attracted to films having to do with fathers, grief, and/or fractured families. That personal connection has given even the hoariest of his roles some extra gravity, and that goes double for this one, where he acts opposite his real-life son. 

Memorable Dialogue: Though the screenplay doesn’t exactly snap or crackle, there are a few funny pops of exchanges, like when Robert admonishes someone to “get the fuck out of my house,” a realtor tries to quiet him with a “please,” and he amends his statement: “Sorry. Get the fuck out of my house, please.” Later, Jack’s son points out that he only has twelve followers on Instagram. “You know who else had twelve followers?” Neeson deadpans. 

Sex and Skin: Oh, my, no; this is about the softest R-rated movie you’re likely to come across. Neeson’s character is sort of a half-assed womanizer, but the movie’s romance has nothing that would offend the average grandparent.

Photo: IFC Films

Our Take: Neither global pandemics nor industry strikes appear capable of slowing the output of Liam Neeson, who became a later-in-life action star with 2009’s Taken. Fifteen years later, he still cranks out two or three starring roles a year, typically thrillers where he plays criminals, detectives, or other hard men staring down a lifetime of regret and/or a final shot at revenge. Made in Italy, which received a quiet release during that first COVID summer, is a change of pace from all that; it’s an intimate character drama from actor James D’Arcy, who makes his feature debut as a writer-director.

Whether it’s a particularly skillful change of pace is another matter entirely. Based on Made in Italy, D’Arcy’s best quality as a nascent filmmaker is not pushing too hard. The father-son drama is predictable, but it doesn’t feel especially heavy-handed; when it comes time for a big cathartic breakdown scene, it’s both movingly played by Neeson and smartly written as not a cure-all to all of the problems facing Robert and Jack’s broken family. (Then again, a fair number of the movie’s problems are solved by generational wealth.) The low-key moments of comedy don’t strain for wackiness, with the possible exception of the shallow couple who considers buying Robert and Jack’s charming fixer-upper. 

Movies about houses in dire need of repair are often tacit fantasies; even as we survey the wreckage that’s supposed to look nearly hopeless, we’re invited to secretly suspect that it has potential, and maybe even that it would be fun to tease that potential out. Made in Italy does a decent job of providing that fantasy, though that’s also where D’Arcy’s reluctance to push becomes a slight liability: The actual process of restoring this house is largely glossed over in montages and time-jumps and help from local experts, which makes it somewhat less satisfying to experience on screen. Ultimately, this is a family drama in the vein of Neeson’s lower-tier thrillers: It gets the job done with some efficiency, but it’s hard not to think of the many times Neeson himself has done similar, better movies. 

Our Call: It’s hard to fully recommend this slim, earnest, occasionally amusing adults-grieving drama, given how many similar movies can offer greater depth on the subject. So probably SKIP IT – unless you’re a massive Neeson fan looking for a break from B-movie thrillers, in which case this will suffice as a nice little vacation. 

Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned) is a writer living in Brooklyn. He’s a regular contributor to The A.V. Club, Polygon, and The Week, among others. He podcasts at www.sportsalcohol.com, too.

Made in Italy

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