While most of us in quarantine are stuck dreaming about a picturesque Italian vacation, IFC Films’ latest charming tale Made In Italy fulfills any itch for a glimmer of the Tuscan sun.
Real-life father-son duo Liam Neeson and Michaél Richardson star as an estranged paternal pair rebuilding their romance as they remodel an Italian villa. Artist Robert (Liam Neeson) enlists his son Jack (Michaél Richardson) to help renovate and sell a Tuscany home inherited from his late wife. With the seeds of romance with local realtor Kate (Lindsay Duncan), Robert seems to be moving on. However, the house remodels triggers Jack’s grief over the death of his mother, before embarking on a love triangle with chef (Valeria Bilello).
Neeson’s loving performance alongside Richardson brings an authentic charm to the story. The parallels between Made In Italy and the tragic loss of Neeson’s wife and Richardson’s mother, actress Natasha Richardson, is not lost on the viewer, making Made In Italy a sweet tribute and authentic leading role debut for Richardson.
The virtual premiere for the film included a wine and paint night theme featuring custom Tuscan landscape puzzles. Celebrity guests like Cher, Martha Stewart, Lorraine Bracco, Anjelica Huston, Niece Nash, Dana Delany, Megan Hilty, Fran Drescher, Michelle Collins, and Jeff and Marla Garlin tuned in to watch the post-screening discussion with writer-director James D’arcy, Neeson, and Richardson.
During the Q&A, moderated by Scott Mantz, D’arcy addressed the casting process for Richardson. “We were really clear that we didn’t want to do Greek therapy. We wanted to make it entertainment but [Neeson] said ‘look, I just think there’s something under the surface that is going to add to the film,'” D’arcy reminisced. He met with Richardson and immediately knew he was right for the role of Jack.
For Richardson, the film also offered a cathartic release in it’s natural comparison to his own life. The same summer that D’arcy presented Richardson with the script, Neeson and Richardson were in the process of selling a family home that Natasha Richardson had grow up in.
“Of course having lost my mom, the parallels between the film were eerie, but in a special way,” Richardson confessed during the discussion. “I thought…what an amazing opportunity, how lucky I am, but it also felt like in a spiritual sense my mom had something to do with it. It felt very spiritual in a way.”
Neeson similarly cherished working with his son on set, although at times he had to remind himself to embrace their inherent dynamic. “You don’t have to ‘act’ being a father. You don’t have to ‘act’ being a son. We just are,” Neeson said. “And sometimes I had to fight that and just let it breathe. You know, Michaél’s my son, I’m his dad, it’s as simple as that.”
According to Neeson, the Italian and British film crew encouraged the intimate, emotional process of filming. “They were so with us every step of the way,” Neeson mused, thanking the production for running a “sensitive tight ship.”
Writer-director D’arcy also shared his inspiration behind the story: he also lost his father at a young age, and sought refuge in the art of movie-going. “I want to help people feel difficult emotions and have conversations that are awkward and that they don’t want to talk about. [Films] make it a safe environment,” D’arcy expressed.
In this current era of uncertainty and loss, D’arcy felt Made In Italy was premiering at the perfect time. “I hope for the movie that people get to feel some feelings, but I hope that they feel them in a hopeful way because my God, does the world need some hope right now.”
“Made In Italy” premieres in theaters and On Demand August 7th.