Made in Italy tells the story of Jack (Micheál Richardson), a London art gallery manager desperate to buy out his wife’s share of the business amidst their divorce. To raise the money quickly, Jack enlists his estranged father Robert (Liam Neeson) to restore and sell their long-abandoned family villa tucked away in the hills of Tuscany.
As father and son journey to Italy, the cracks in their relationship slowly reveal years of unresolved grief over the loss of Jack’s mother. Though the house itself has deteriorated after standing vacant for years, its musty rooms seem to echo memories of happier times for the family.
What begins as a quixotic business venture soon becomes a poignant chance for Robert and Jack to reconnect. But will ransacking the past only reopen old wounds? Or might the Tuscan sun have restorative powers after all?
Finding Truth Amidst Fiction
Anchoring Made in Italy is Liam Neeson’s subtle yet affecting performance as the gruff but grief-stricken Robert. Though Neeson has reinvented himself in recent years as an improbable action star, here he returns to the powerful emotional register of earlier roles. There’s a bone-deep sadness to his portrayal of an artist who lost his creative spark along with his wife all those years ago.
Performing alongside Neeson is his real-life son Micheál Richardson as Jack, lending their fictional father-son friction added poignancy. Though Richardson shows promise, he lacks his father’s technical prowess, sometimes straining to match the emotional vitality Neeson brings to each scene. Still, the familial intimacy between the two is palpable.
Providing a standout supporting turn is Lindsay Duncan as Kate, the prickly yet sympathetic estate agent overseeing the property sale. Duncan radiates intelligence and delivers the script’s rare moments of honesty with an arresting emotional directness absent from much of the film.
Ultimately Neeson’s nuanced gravitas elevates the proceedings, reminding viewers of his undemonstrated talent for comedic and dramatic fare alike. For all the contrivances in D’Arcy’s script, Neeson brings welcome texture to Robert’s journey from bitterness to catharsis. The rest may feel overly familiar, but traces of truth still shine through.
Unpacking Shared Sorrow
At its core, Made in Italy is concerned with the messiness of grief and the long road to healing fractured families. As Robert and Jack sift through the remnants of their abandoned home, they gradually confront the unspoken pain that has long stood between them since losing wife and mother.
These emotional themes undoubtedly carry deeper resonance given Neeson’s own loss. After Natasha Richardson’s shocking death in 2009, the actor has been continually drawn to projects centered on grief and regret. That personal connection seems to infuse his performance here with added gravitas. Knowing Neeson likely sees shades of his own heartache in Robert’s makes their eventual catharsis together feel more meaningful.
However, D’Arcy struggles to earn some of these heavier emotional beats in his script. Major moments meant to unpack decades of buried trauma sometimes land awkwardly instead. And for all the bittersweet subtext about the recent past, the central father-son relationship too often comes across as superficial. We’re told more about their lingering pain than shown through compelling action and dialogue.
While no doubt well-intentioned, D’Arcy ultimately seems unsure how much darkness his Tuscany travelogue can bear. Richardson lacks the technique to fully sell the dramatic moments as written either. So despite Neeson’s efforts to complicate Robert’s sorrow, Made in Italy often feels afraid to stare straight at the grief it seeks to dissect, limiting its emotional impact. The ingredients for poignancy are there, but too many scenes capture only a glimmer instead of the full cathartic spark they promise.
A Postcard Come to Life
Whatever emotional complexities D’Arcy struggles to unlock, he undeniably crafts a visually enchanting love letter to the Tuscan countryside. Cinematographer Mike Eley makes painterly use of the region’s sun-kissed topography, sweeping camera across vast rolling hills and around Robert and Jack’s resplendent villa.
That panoramic beauty is echoed in production designer Stevie Herbert’s meticulous transformation of the home itself. As the stone walls shift from decrepit to inviting over time, it’s tempting to forget the contrivances of plot and simply lose oneself in the layers of authentic texture Herbert has built inside this living postcard.
The soundtrack also conjures an aura of la dolce vita escapism, layering in jaunty folk songs and regional instruments between scenes. At times the music clashes awkwardly with attempts at weightier drama, but it effectively transports viewers to another world ripe with lemon trees, vespas and limoncello.
Whatever its flaws as family reconciliation drama, Made in Italy succeeds smashingly as an exercise in scenic wish fulfillment, beautifully photographed against the most idyllic of Tuscan backdrops. For audiences craving 89 minutes of wine-soaked real estate fantasy, it more than fits the bill. Just don’t peer too closely when the characters try to speak over all that gorgeous scenery.
Shortcomings in the Shadows
For all its visual pleasures and pockets of poignancy, Made in Italy suffers from some frustrating narrative issues that dim an otherwise enjoyable viewing experience. Chief among them is D’Arcy’s reliance on clumsy contrivances to goose the plot whenever it starts to lag. Jack’s entire professional dilemma feels manufactured just to set the story in motion, while Robert and Jack’s arbitrary three-week deadline introduces pointless time pressure. A local weasel invading their home also reeks of cloying hijinks meant to force slapdash father-son bonding.
Equally grating are tone and pacing problems rooted in D’Arcy’s background as an actor rather than director. Dramatic scenes meant to showcase emotional catharsis are regularly undercut by abrupt tonal shifts into farce, disrupting engagement with the characters’ inner lives. And inertia often sets in when scenes drag on too long without sharper editing.
Not helping matters is an overmatched supporting performance from Richardson, who lacks chemistry with Bilello’s romantic interest and fails to convincingly sell pivotal heavy moments opposite his dad. One aches to see Neeson paired with a more seasoned performer capable of sharing the dramatic load.
In the end, hints of depth too often lose out to Hallmark superficiality in D’Arcy’s approach, subsumed within either striking Tuscan tableaus or stories packed with clichés. What should sting instead just rings hollow.
A Postcard Come to Life, Problems Included
At just 89 minutes, Made in Italy makes for a pleasant enough escapist diversion from heavier fare, so long as you indulge its flaws as easily as its postcard visions of Tuscan bliss. Uneven and predictable as drama, the film soars whenever moments of emotional truth emerge from the self-conscious scripting. And the ravishing backdrops captured by Eley’s camera alone may be worth the price of admission for some.
Centering it all is Liam Neeson’s nuanced turn as a sorrowful artist long numbed by grief, hinting at untapped depths beneath his usual thriller fare. But Neeson alone can’t carry the full dramatic load here, undermined by contrivances in plotting and tone as well as an overmatched supporting cast, particularly Richardson as his son. director James D’Arcy shows flashes of competency, but too often loses the human story amidst all that carefully arranged local color.
For viewers simply seeking travelogue escapism and a few quiet meditations on the restorative power of family, Made in Italy should sufficiently fit the bill. Just don’t expect the tidyplotting to satisfy as much as the postcard sunsets. Where stomachs may growl for emotional substance, D’Arcy keeps his recipe decidedly light. But escapism this gorgeous still warrants a taste.
Made in Italy
Despite intermittent charms, Made in Italy ultimately serves better as a vehicle for Liam Neeson to flex his dramatic chops than a fully satisfying family drama. For all the Tuscan sunshine permeating each frame, the father-son reconciliation plot too often feels contrived and superficial. Still, Neeson brings his trademark gravitas, and the pastoral scenery offers transportive comfort food for cabin fever. Isolated moments manage to stir, even if the overall stew leaves some essential ingredients lacking.
- Beautiful Tuscan scenery and cinematography
- Strong lead performance by Liam Neeson
- Effective home renovation/transition visuals
- Some emotionally resonant moments
- Lindsay Duncan provides a standout supporting turn
- Predictable, contrived plot points
- Uneven tonal shifts between drama and comedy
- Micheál Richardson miscast, lacking chemistry
- Cathartic moments often feel unearned or superficial
- Romantic subplot underdeveloped
- Slow pacing during some stretches