Made in Italy

NEW YORK (CNS) — Real-life father and son Liam Neeson and Micheal Richardson team up to play a fictional parent-grown-child duo in “Made in Italy” (IFC), a blend of comedy, drama and romance written and directed by James D’Arcy.

The results are uneven both aesthetically and morally, though the theme of family unity and a cheerful spirit help to compensate for the film’s shortcomings.

Richardson plays Jack, a London art gallery manager who’s about to be fired by the establishment’s owners, the family of his soon-to-be ex-wife, Ruth (Yolanda Kettle). His only hope is to raise enough money to buy his workplace before it can be sold to someone else.

So Jack turns to his semi-estranged dad, Robert (Neeson), a once-famous painter, to help him fix up and sell the house in Italy they jointly inherited from his long-dead mother. Together they travel from the British capital to Tuscany, where unresolved grief haunts both even as Jack falls for divorced local restaurateur Natalia (Valeria Bilello).

The vineyard-laden landscapes are easy on the eyes and some of the comedy involved in repairing the disastrously neglected vacation home is gently amusing. But, although the divide created by bereavement is plausible enough, once D’Arcy’s script pushes matters to a crisis, the emotions begin to feel forced.

The celebration of second love and, possibly, marriage will not sit well with viewers committed to the lifelong permanence of that honorable estate. All the more so because D’Arcy plays the trick of portraying both ex-spouses in a thoroughly negative light. Ruth is an ice queen while Natalia’s former hubby, Marzio (Gian Marco Tavani), trashed her reputation to get half-custody of their young daughter.

In fact, husbands and wives from whom to flee are thick on the ground. Thus English ex-pat realtor Kate (Lindsay Duncan), in between surveying the dilapidated villa with a despairing professional eye and all the stiffness, initially, of Queen Victoria when not amused, explains that her fresh start in a new country was necessitated by the treachery of her ex.

D’Arcy’s screenplay, moreover, could have gone lighter on vulgar language. This element is somewhat justifiable as a marker of Robert’s gruffness and of the tensions between him and Jack. (Along the same lines, Robert’s lightly touched-on womanizing is implicitly depicted as a symptom of his grief.) But such ingredients still don’t feel entirely justified in a story that ultimately aims at a lighthearted outcome.

Still, there’s a generally breezy feel to the proceedings. And the fact that the plot recalls the shared loss Neeson and Richardson suffered in the untimely death of actress Natasha Richardson, who died in 2009 at only 45, will go a long way toward endearing this patchy project to its audience.

The film contains acceptability of divorce, implied casual sex, fleeting sexual humor, at least one use of profanity, a couple of milder oaths as well as about a dozen rough and half as many crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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