Just a couple of years ago, it looked like Liam Neeson was turning his back on all those action roles. His performance in the beautifully tender low budget indie Ordinary Love was about as far away as you could get from his “I will find you” declarations and reminded us how classy an act he can be. As it turned out, he’s not ready to hang up his action credentials just yet, but he is making time for less physically demanding offerings, the latest being Made It Italy.
In this gentle drama, his physical exertions don’t extend much beyond wielding a paint brush, as he plays an artist re-united with his estranged son Jack (played by his real life son, Micheal Richardson), when the latter needs to raise some money. He suggests selling the family home in Tuscany, a majestic but neglected building deep in the gorgeous countryside and, when the two arrive there, it’s obvious the place needs more than just the proverbial lick of emulsion. Help is at hand in the shape of local artisans as well as estate agent Kate (Lindsay Duncan) but, more importantly, it’s the chance both men have needed for years – to deal with their grief following the death of Jack’s mother and repair their fractured relationship.
It’s directed and written by James D’Arcy (who stars in another of this week’s releases, Six Minutes To Midnight), who’s been emphatic that his film isn’t the Neeson-Richardson family story, but an entertainment. Nonetheless, it’s hard to avoid the echoes and it does add a little much-needed emotional depth to a film that’s wedged firmly in the past. Not only is the narrative full of the influences of memories and past relationships, but the film as a whole is the sort of offering that went down a storm about 30 years ago, in the wake of the success of A Year In Provence. The charming rustic buildings, the friendly (and often comical) locals, the wonderful food and, of course the glorious scenery complete with the essential dappled sunshine are all there. This may be the closest many of us get to something more than a staycation this year and, visually, it’s not hard to bask in the warmth and local colour.
But, in truth, there’s little more of substance in the film than that. It’s clear after about twenty minutes exactly how the storyline is going to pan out and the attempts at humour – it’s billed at a comedy – are so low key that many of them simply slip under the radar. There’s some entertaining generation gap banter between Neeson and Richardson, but the more heartfelt moments don’t always hit the mark. And it’s sad to see the talents of Lindsay Duncan wasted as the brisk estate agent, dropped in essentially as a will-they-won’t-they love interest for Neeson.
Undemanding but with a certain charm – not always of the Italian variety – Made In Italy works on a travelogue level for those of us desperate for some sunshine and a change of scenery. Aside from that, it simply can’t shake off the sense that audiences in the late 80s would have lapped it up. Trying to bring a dated idea into the 2010s with chat about apps hardly scratches the surface.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Amazon Prime | 26 March 2021 | Dir. James D’Arcy | Liam Neeson, Micheal Richardson, Lindsay Duncan, Valeria Bilello.