Movie review: ‘Made in Italy’ is brimming with Tuscan charm
This is not actor James D’Arcy’s first encounter with writing and directing a film. He had that experience a few years ago with an oddball comic short titled “Chicken/Egg,” which starred Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, then in his sixth season as Jamie Lannister on “Game of Thrones” (the short is currently available on YouTube). D’Arcy, making his name as a quiet, but dashing screen presence since the late-1990s, had been writing feature scripts for years, and came close to directing one of them, but “Made in Italy” was the first to have all of its pieces fall into place.
And his feature debut behind the camera is a rarity - a sweet and funny and charming and very positive movie that’s not filled with clichés. His story teeters close to the edge of a couple of them, but never falls into the abyss.
With a small cast of mostly likable characters, and a scattering of good-for-nothings to make the nice folks look even better, D’Arcy’s story introduces Jack (Micheál Richardson), the manager of a London art gallery, and his soon-to-be ex-wife Ruth (Yolanda Kettle) - one of the nasty characters - whose family owns the gallery and is now selling it, leaving Jack out in the cold.
What’s a gallery manager who is going through a messy divorce, has no other career skills, has been sad and lost since his mother died in an accident when he was 7, and has no relationship, beyond an estranged one, with his aloof father, to do?
Well, look up dad, take a drive with him to their abandoned old family home in gorgeous Tuscany, sell the place, and have enough money to buy the gallery from his wife’s family, of course!
You might wonder if the uncomfortable presence between the father and the son will somehow work out, or if the bitterness emanating from the son’s bad marriage will lead to some kind of happiness for him, or if the mission to Italy will result in dreams coming true back home. Those are common and expected story arcs in small, arty films like this.
But “Made in Italy” depends as much on characters and their development as it does in the stories going on around them. It was a spot-on decision to have son Jack and father Robert be played by real-life son and father Micheál Richardson and Liam Neeson. It’s not that there’s that much of a physical similarity, but it clearly comes across that these two men know and understand each other, and everything clicks when they step into character, even when their roles call for two people who do not know each other very well. That’s called good acting.
Their arrival in the little Tuscan village where the house has been empty for 20 years signals that it’s time to introduce some comedy - Richardson proves to be adept at pratfalls - and some other characters - it’s not long before we meet beautiful restaurant owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello) and business-minded estate agent Kate (Lindsay Duncan), along with a few assorted and rather colorful local characters.
In short order, the plotlines kick in: Do we fix up this dust heap or do we sell it as is? Or do we keep it? Arguments between father and son on those topics ensue. Is Jack getting a little crush on Natalia, even though she has a daughter with her and an ex-husband nearby? Can Robert, once a well-known painter who walked away from it all, ever come back to the limelight?
And then the father-son problems are plopped down in the middle of it all. Did supposedly carefree Robert abandon Jack when his wife died? Will sullen Jack ever figure out a way to get back with his dad? More important, does he even want to?
Amidst regular doses of drama and goofiness, all played out at a slow, smooth pace, with gentle music pushing it along, “Made in Italy” emerges as a story about unhappy people in a beautiful place, and how they’re affected by it. There are misunderstandings and there are squabbles, and there’s an enjoyable and impossibly happy ending. And even that doesn’t feel like a cliché.
“Made in Italy” opens in select theaters and will be available on most VOD and cable platforms on Aug. 7.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.
“Made in Italy”
Written and directed by James D’Arcy
With Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Valeria Bilello, Lindsay Duncan