‘Sr.’ review: Compelling look at the life of Robert Downey


Like father, like son? It’s a query that’s answered in affecting, if not all the time totally probing methods within the in any other case compelling documentary “Sr.,” a vigorous take a look at cult filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. and his exponentially extra well-known, deeply devoted son: “Iron Man,” “Avengers” and “Sherlock Holmes” star, Robert Downey Jr.

Downey Sr. (born Robert Elias and referred to right here merely as “Sr.”) might have been little greater than a blip on the cinematic radar these previous few a long time. However within the late Nineteen Sixties, he grew to become a counterculture icon after making such absurdist underground films as “Chafed Elbows,” “No Extra Excuses” and his most notable and influential hit, the anarchic ad-agency satire “Putney Swope.” His well-timed work was a barbed, unapologetic mirror of that period’s political and social turbulence.

Sadly, follow-up movies akin to 1970’s humans-playing-animals comedy “Pound” and 1972’s acid western-Christ parable, “Greaser’s Palace,” did little to burnish his fame. He went on to have a sort of herky-jerky helming profession till exiting the movie scene in 2005 with the Philadelphia-set documentary, “Rittenhouse Sq..”

Nevertheless it’s Downey Sr. the unconventional household man, as a lot because the subversive filmmaker, who will get his close-up right here, as father and son share time on digital camera (in particular person and by way of COVID-necessitated Zoom and cellphone calls) from 2019 till Sr.’s dying in mid-2021 of issues from Parkinson’s illness. They chat about life and their many shared experiences, together with Downey Jr.’s formative gigs as a child actor in “Pound” and “Greaser’s” and their later collaborations on Downey Sr.’s obscure comedies “Too A lot Solar” (1990) and “Hugo Pool” (1997). (1987’s porn-industry satire, “Rented Lips,” goes unmentioned, maybe for good motive.)

What most notoriously binds Sr. and son, nonetheless, was a protracted and self-destructive dependancy to medicine: Downey Sr.’s started within the mid-‘70s; Jr.’s much more well-documented behavior landed him a jail stretch just a few a long time later. The doc touches upon, somewhat than dissects, the concept Jr.’s dependancy might have been inadvertently fostered by his permissive dad, a seemingly pivotal piece of their symbiotic dynamic.

As well as, the place precisely was Downey Sr. — to not point out Downey Jr.’s actress-mother and Downey Sr.’s first spouse, Elsie (they divorced in 1982) — throughout Downey Jr.’s darkest days? Only a little bit of referencing may need helped spherical out some patchy household historical past. (Downey Sr. and Elsie’s second little one, Allyson, is just fleetingly talked about and proven.)

However that is largely a buoyant and affectionate portrait, one which enjoyably showcases Downey Sr.’s candy irascibility (and plain allure), Jr.’s offhand jauntiness and the puckish duo’s mutual love of movie, household and irreverence. That’s its energy and, it appears, raison d’être, even when the movie, directed by Chris Smith (“American Film,” “Fyre”), with what could be referred to as an unofficial help from Downey Sr., feels largely made up as they went alongside — and a product of some skillfully managed modifying. (Clearly nonetheless a director in his bones, the elder Downey additionally labored on a sort of shadow model of a bio-doc, bits of that are seen right here.)

Shot in New York, L.A. and East Hampton in atmospheric black-and-white (successfully recalling the vibe of Sr.’s early output), the film options an array of clips from most of Downey Sr.’s movies, together with 1975’s alliteratively titled — and narratively incomprehensible — “Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight” and the iconoclast’s one ill-fated (and admittedly horrible) foray into studio directing, the 1980 military-school farce, “Up the Academy.”

Snippets of Sr.’s appearing stints in just a few of his early works in addition to a job in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” are additionally woven in, as are interviews with mates together with Anderson (who supplies private archival footage), Alan Arkin, Norman Lear and Lawrence Wolf, the latter a frequent performer in Downey Sr.’s ’60s and ’70s movies.

Further archival clips of Elsie Downey (a recreation mainstay in a lot of Downey Sr.’s movies; she died in 2014) and Sr.’s second spouse, actress-writer Laura Ernst, who died in 1994 at age 36 of ALS, are featured as nicely. We additionally meet Sr.’s third spouse, Rosemary; Downey Jr.’s second spouse and enterprise associate, Susan (a producer right here with Downey Jr.); and Jr. and Susan’s younger kids, son Exton and, extra briefly, daughter Avri.

The nice-natured Exton performs a key half towards the top of the doc when he and his dad go to New York to spend some closing time with the dying Downey Sr. These concluding moments amongst three generations of Downey males are pretty and memorable.

“Sr.” proves a young portrait and becoming tribute to an offbeat hero and artistic pioneer.

‘Sr.’

Rated: R, for language and a few drug use

Working time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Enjoying: Begins Nov. 23, Laemmle Monica Movie Middle, Santa Monica; obtainable Dec. 2 on Netflix



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