New York Film Festival : Review / Getting Deep in the Inane World of Robert Downey “Sr.”

New York Film Festival : Review / Getting Deep in the Inane World of Robert Downey “Sr.”

Summer of 2001– I was driving around with some friends listening to the new Kool Keith album when all of a sudden the eccentric emcee drops one of the most random names; Cuba Gooding Sr. We laughed heartily as; while there has to be a Cuba Gooding Sr. if there is a Cuba Gooding Jr., the idea of there being a Sr. somehow ever crossed our minds. Of course there is a Cuba Gooding Sr. and not only that, but he is quite famous himself as a singer for The Main Ingredient.

Even though in my life, Robert Downey Sr. is just as important as Robert Downey Jr. – as among other things, he is the writer/director of my favorite comedy of all time – many people out there are wholly unaware of the accomplishments of the elder Downey. When I try to tell people about Putney Swope (the greatest comedy ever made), and mention Robert Downey Sr., people are shocked to hear it. “Oh, I had no idea his father made movies.” Arguably the king of American underground cinema, Downey Sr. was never looking for world wide acclaim, but he certainly rocked the boat along the way. 

“Sr.” is not a documentary in the traditional sense. Yes, the audience is greeted with clips and stories of Robert’s work and what went behind their creation. From the early nitty gritty, to the more mature (yet still sophomoric) works that came as his self taught talents grew, there is that informative background that needs to be laid to understand the subject of any piece of work. But this is more of a personal journal for Downey Jr. as he tries to connect with his father as the latter’s health declines; and we’re just privileged to be allowed to witness it all.

Photo : Director Chris Smith

Sr. never wanted to have a documentary made about him. At least, not one he participated in. To even have this process get under way an agreement had to be made. Jr.  and director Chris Smith can have him in the project, ask him questions, etc. Only if Sr. can also go with Chris, shoot some of his own material and make it into a completely different movie. The “Sr. cut” as it is referred to in the final project. And Sr. would be working on this cut with Smith the entire time, even as his health continued to decline. 

Maybe getting too personal here for a film review, I am both pleased and displeased with the fact that this movie even exists. I don’t want to come off as a gatekeeper and I hate people who don’t want to share the things they enjoy with others. But in many ways, it does always feel nice to have knowledge of something that is not popular with the rest of the world. Everyone I meet who asks about movies I love, I tell them about Putney Swope and I want them to see it. I want people to learn our Sr.’s films, but at the same time, I want to contradict that idea and hold close to me what my father unselfishly introduced me to. But, this is where “Sr.” really triumphs.

Photo : Executive Producers Robert Downey Jr, and Susan Downey

As stated, this is a peek into the personal family life of two of the most impactful people that have gone out of their way to entertain us. And they’re showing us things we have no right being a part of. Did Chris Smith and Robert Downey Jr. intentionally plan to make such a personal film to show the world? I don’t know. But, at the end of the day, this is less of a film about a man’s life, and more a film about a Son just looking for some verbal confirmations of what he already knows.

The man who needs to answer those questions just doesn’t play by the rules. Never did. If you wait till the last minute to change the plan, you still changed the plan. Robert Downey Sr. has a principle and he lived it to the very end. Because he never wanted to just rock the boat. Rocking the boat’s a drag. What you do is sink the boat. 

Final Grade: B+

Check out more of Matthew’s articles.


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