(2020) (Michael Richardson, Liam Neeson) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A young man tries to convince his estranged father to sell the Tuscan home they once lived in but neither has used in years.
Jack Forster (MICHAEL RICHARDSON) is about to get divorced from his wife, Ruth (YOLANDA KETTLE), but doesn't want to lose the art gallery -- owned by her parents -- that he currently manages. Needing to raise money to buy that from them, he proposes to his estranged artist father, Robert (LIAM NEESON), that they sell the Tuscan villa that they co-own. Neither has been there in decades, what with Robert having been unable to return following the car accident death of his wife back when Jack was young.
The place is now in disrepair, much to the chagrin of real estate agent Kate Lewis (LINDSAY DUNCAN). Robert believes they can fix the place up, but Jack knows they don't have the years it took local restaurateur Natalia (VALERIA BILELLO) -- who has a young daughter with her ex, Marzio (GIAN MARCO TAVANI) -- to rehab the building her restaurant is located in.
As the father and son begin working on the place, they also end up working on their long-fractured relationship.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
While "This Old House" was one of -- if not the first "reality TV" shows about fixing up old places, the appropriately titled "Fixer Upper" starring the real-life husband and wife duo of Chip and Joanna Gaines kicked off a wave of similar shows featuring people renovating old houses for new buyers.
Although I'm certainly not one who could tackle such immense undertakings, it's obvious such shows make such work appear much easier -- with some "oh no" drama thrown in for good measure -- and certainly much shorter in duration than what happens in reality. Nonetheless, all of the worker-hosts manage to come through in the end and deliver the goods.
Some of the abodes in question, however, are in such bad shape that if I were in charge -- and not needing material for a TV show -- I'd simply tear them down and build something new from scratch. That certainly came to mind while watching "Made in Italy," an offering that isn't a reality TV program, but instead is a family drama centered around an old Tuscan villa that's seen better days, both in terms of structure and those who inhabited the place.
As directed by actor turned filmmaker James D'Arcy who works from his own screenplay, the story revolves around an estranged father and his adult son (played by the real-life dad-son duo of Liam Neeson and Michael Richardson, son of the late actress Natasha Richardson) who travel from London to Tuscany to unload the old family place that neither has been to in decades.
The only problem -- actually one of several facing them -- is that the place has fallen into serious disrepair, complete with vegetation growing inside. But their arrival there not only stirs up memories -- painful for the dad, scant ones for the son -- but also their estranged and strained relationship overall.
We quickly learn that young adult Jack (Richardson) is getting a divorce, with the fallout from that being that he might lose the art gallery owned by his wife's parents that he currently manages. Needing fast money to buy the place from them, he easily convinces his artist dad (Neeson) to head to Italy and off-load the place that they currently co-own, what with having inherited that from their late wife/mother.
But the local real estate agent (Lindsay Duncan) they've hired is taken aback by the sight of the place (complete with a huge, Jackson Pollock style painting covering the entirety of a huge wall), while a local restaurateur (Valeria Bilello) says it took her years to rehab the place where her restaurant currently resides, considerably more than the thirty days Jack has.
Portrayed somewhat lightly with some more dramatic underpinnings, the film could have played off the current "fixer upper" craze, be that with the father-son duo being a sort of odd couple pairing for the job, or introducing others to do that work (and possibly add comic relief and/or life & philosophical lessons for the obviously troubled dad and his boy).
While there's a brief montage of some local men coming in to do related work and a few scenes of Jack and Robert tackling some of that themselves, all involved instead opt to focus on the past tragedy that affected the two men back then and still today, along with a budding romance between the protagonist and the restaurateur and so on.
The problem with that lies in the fact that such a storytelling approach is about as predictable as they come, while Richardson plays his character in such a standoffish way (even taking into account the scars that got him to his current state) that you don't root for him to succeed in his quest (to get the money to buy the gallery) or make amends with dear old dad (Neeson is fine in the role).
Despite the two being all too familiar with the real-life loss of their mother and wife, the fictitious portrayal here feels melodramatic and forced rather than natural and heartbreaking turned heartwarming. Not horrible but needing its own dose of fixing up, "Made in Italy" rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed August 2, 2020 / Posted August 7, 2020
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