James D’Arcy makes an important career leap from actor to director, with his feature debut, Made in Italy. Best known for his portrayal as Edwin Jarvis in the MCU’s Agent Carter and Avengers: Endgame, D’Arcy ditches the flashy blockbuster for an intimate look at the relationship between an estranged father and son.
The main duo is portrayed by real life father and son, Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson. Although definitely not strangers to each other, they are also not strangers to working together either, having portrayed another father and son duo in Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit.
Neeson plays bohemian London artist Robert, whilst Richardson plays Jack, his son who is struggling to keep ownership of his gallery. The two have not been on the best of talking terms, but co-own a house in Tuscany, which belonged to Jack’s dead mother. Jack reunites with Robert, in order to renovate the house and sell it for a profit, so Jack can keep his gallery.
What follows is a mash-up of comical attempts at DIY and sharp-tongued banter between Jack and Robert, but with a divide still very evident between the two men. They recruit Kate – a no nonsense expat played by an on-form Lindsay Duncan, who makes her money selling villas – to help restore the property.
Meanwhile, Jack falls for Natalia (Valeria Bilello), a beautiful Italian chef, who helps him overcome the relationship problems he is suffering from at home. Their developing relationship, however, is put in jeopardy from Natalia’s jealous and threatening ex husband.
D’Arcy proves himself thoroughly adept behind the camera. He is quick to familiarise us with these characters and barely wastes a scene. He also manages to capture the importance of location – it seems a very deliberate choice to set a film about struggling artists in Tuscany, the region in which Leonardo da Vinci was born.
As well as directing, D’Arcy also tackled the screenplay. Clearly it’s an important and personal story to him, but unfortunately he doesn’t quite manage to grasp the intricacies of dialogue. One thing D’Arcy is clear on is making this a light-hearted drama, which he achieves by scattering humour across the pages. Some jokes really do land, but it feels like D’Arcy is trying too hard to make us laugh. A few jokes nearer the beginning of the film, while Jack and Robert are traveling to Italy, seem forced and act as an unnecessary attempt to get us to like the characters as quickly as possible.
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Neeson and Richardon’s performance overcome the mild short fallings of the script, with the re-building of their relationship remaining at the core of the film. Their personal relationship allows for a dramatic switch from comedy to anguish in moments. The most prominent example of this comes when Jack discovers Robert has kept all the mementos of his childhood locked away from him. The scene allows for both men to open up about their grief, their despair and their different understandings of death, eventually leading them to realise where the other is coming from.
Part of this must no doubt come from their real life tragedy. Jack and Robert are mourning the loss of their wife and mother, just like Neeson and Richardson mourn the passing of their wife and mother, Natasha Richardson.
Although the romantic subplot threatens to occasionally overshadow the main father-son relationship, D’Arcy is clever enough to utilise the romance as a way to develop Jack’s character so that he realises how important Robert is in his life.
Overall, D’Arcy makes a welcome debut to the world of directing with Made in Italy. His story is one about reconnecting and rebuilding relationships, a theme that seems suddenly so relevant in these times. Building both comedy and drama into the film, D’Arcy seems confident with tone, but is helped indefinitely by his two leading men, Neeson and Richardson.
A synopsis reads:
A London artist and his estranged son try to mend their relationship as they work together to repair a dilapidated house in Italy.
Made in Italy is the directorial debut of James D’Arcy and is due to be released in the United States in Select Theaters, Drive-Ins, and Digital/VOD on 7th August 2020.
It stars Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Valeria Bilello and Lindsay Duncan.