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HomeEntertainment'Sr.' assessment: Compelling have a look at the lifetime of Robert Downey

‘Sr.’ assessment: Compelling have a look at the lifetime of Robert Downey

Like father, like son? It’s a query that’s answered in affecting, if not at all times totally probing methods within the in any other case compelling documentary “Sr.,” a energetic have 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 many years. But within the late Nineteen Sixties, he turned a counterculture icon after making such absurdist underground motion pictures as “Chafed Elbows,” “No More 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.

Unfortunately, follow-up movies resembling 1970’s humans-playing-animals comedy “Pound” and 1972’s acid western-Christ parable, “Greaser’s Palace,” did little to burnish his status. 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 Square.”

But 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 digicam (in individual and by way of COVID-necessitated Zoom and telephone 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 Much Sun” (1990) and “Hugo Pool” (1997). (1987’s porn-industry satire, “Rented Lips,” goes unmentioned, maybe for good purpose.)

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

In addition, 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? Just a little bit of referencing might 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.)

But that is largely a buoyant and affectionate portrait, one which enjoyably showcases Downey Sr.’s candy irascibility (and simple attraction), Jr.’s offhand jauntiness and the puckish duo’s mutual love of movie, household and irreverence. That is its energy and, it appears, raison d’être, even when the movie, directed by Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “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.”

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

Additional archival clips of Elsie Downey (a recreation mainstay in lots 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 effectively. We additionally meet Sr.’s third spouse, Rosemary; Downey Jr.’s second spouse and enterprise accomplice, Susan (a producer right here with Downey Jr.); and Jr. and Susan’s younger youngsters, son Exton and, extra briefly, daughter Avri.

The good-natured Exton performs a key half towards the tip of the doc when he and his dad go to New York to spend some remaining 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.


Rated: R, for language and a few drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 23, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; obtainable Dec. 2 on Netflix



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