Some projects can elicit a more cathartic experience for actors than others, with Liam Neeson’s latest endeavor Made in Italy being a prime example of a star gravitating towards material that resonates on a deeply intimate level (Neeson stars alongside his own son Micheal Richardson). Despite its stars’ connection to the film’s premise (they lost their respective wife and mother Natasha Richardson back in 2009), Made in Italy fails to register a notable impression.
Made in Italy follows Jack (Richardson) an art exhibitor whose in the midst of a divorce that threatens to take away his gallery. To buy his gallery back, Jack and his accomplished, yet distant painter father Robert (Neeson) travel to Tuscany to sell the home they inherited from the family’s deceased matriarch. In the process of repairing their former home, the two are confronted by their lingering demons as they try to repair their disconnected relationship.
Unsurprisingly, Neeson and Richardson make for a compelling pair onscreen. After playing an onslaught of straight-edged action heroes, its refreshing to watch Neeson tap into a damaged persona as a jaded artist. Bringing Robert to life with a gravely aloof charm, Neeson embraces the character’s wry presence while unearthing genuine pains seamlessly. Richardson also offers a strong effort as everyman Jack, infusing the character’s familiar framework with agency and emotional depth. Made in Italy is at its best when it allows its stars to explore the deeply-seated pains behind its premise, with the third act packing some moving instances of reflection and growth for our lead characters.
Given the actor’s unique perspective on the film’s ruminations, it’s baffling to see how little James D’Arcy’s script engages with its dramatic ideals. Much of the first two acts ignores dramatic beats to fixate on cloying indie cliches, whether that be a thinly-written relationship dynamic or a plethora of forced comedic bits that fail to land (numerous jokes made about the house’s decaying state felt more appropriate for a family comedy.) It doesn’t help that D’Arcy’s directorial debut fails to interject a personable voice to enhance these trappings, relying on a preppy score and passable imagery to begrudgingly push the narrative forward.
It’s a letdown that Made in Italy’s auspicious nucleus renders a paper-thin exploration of grief and familial detachment. The third act offers glimpses of painful truths, including a confrontational moment between Jack and Robert that sings with honesty and emotional heft. However, D’Arcy’s screenplay ends up feeling too inert to convey the character’s sizable open-wounds, wrapping up its plot threads in a clean fashion that largely betrays the film’s core ideals. It all reads as far too safe, going through the narrative motions rather than intimately digging deep into the character’s turmoil.
While admittedly pleasant, Made in Italy’s milquetoast delivery severely undercuts its promising set-up.
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