“Made in Italy” goes down easily, like an unassuming Chianti that doesn’t drown the taste of the pasta. It stumbles out the door, and staggers a bit at the end of the evening, a wino back off the wagon. But everything in between is sweet, sentimental and guaranteed not to deliver a hangover.
Sorry, films about Tuscany bring the cringing wine analogies. I’ll stop.
Liam Neeson, a grand vintage in his own right (sorry), co-stars as a retired painter who accompanies his son to the family’s long-vacant Tuscan villa for a quick clean-up and a quick sale. The kid (Michael Richardson, of those Redgraves and Richardsons) needs the money.
Because Jack isn’t really a “kid.” He’s going through a divorce. His wife’s family had the money that kept his “Flite” London art gallery open. If he wants to keep it, he’ll need to buy them out. No sense telling Dad that.
Robert is a widower, once a star with a brush, now turning his energy to turning on the charm for any woman who catches his eye. He’s fine with selling the house.
One dull, time-killing road trip in an old VW van (Not THAT old.) later, and they’re there. Robert turns sentimental, Jack is on task. Guess who the British-born estate agent, Kate (Lindsay Duncan, fun) sympathizes with? And it’s not just because Robert flirts with a little blast of the Bard.
“Bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst, but Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom.”
Want to impress a lady? Don’t drop “The Taming of the Shrew” on her. All business “Kate” it is.
“Your plumbing seems to work. And people like that.”
Everything else? A bit of a shambles, with a weasel having the run of the place, to boot.
Jack would get a lot more done if Dad would stop reminiscing and pitch in, if the lovely restaurateur Natalia (Valeria Bilello) wasn’t in town, a ready-made distraction.
The actor James D’Arcy (“Dunkirk,” TV’s “Homeland” and “Broadchurch”) wrote and directed this, and he tends towards the maudlin at times. He sets up a sort of competition for Natalia between father and son, which is mercifully dispensed with.
“Made in Italy” was over twenty minutes longer when it played the festival circuit. Bu with romantic idyll movies, shorter and quicker is always better, even if you lose some lovely Italian vistas in the process.
Neeson brings a nice twinkle to Robert, and D’Arcy gives him one clever-bordering-on-brilliant scene. Jack looks at the place in the daylight for the first time and praises the “view.” Dad’s mini-tirade turns purple as he gripes at the kid not doing “one of the most spectacular convergences of nature” justice. Jack thinks that’s over the top, but “the artist,” his back turned, recites the glories of the aspect the place surveys. He has total recall for a landscape that “takes your breath away.”
“No, that’s the DUST, Dad.”
That lovely British word “tumbledown” describes the house, and while there are few surprises in any movie about a house renovation in Tuscany, “Made in Italy” clings to cute for dear life and thankfully — at this shorter run-time — never lets go.
It matters not that we, like Robert, will remember the view but not much about the story told in it or the Chianti reveries it inspires.
Credits: Written and directed by James D’Arcy. An IFC Release.
Running time: 1:34