Los Angeles Times

Touching tribute to a cult filmmaker

- By Gary Goldstein

Like father, like son? It’s a question that’s answered in affecting, if not always thoroughly probing ways in the otherwise compelling documentar­y “Sr.,” a lively look at cult filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. and his exponentia­lly more famous, deeply devoted son: “Iron Man,” “Avengers” and “Sherlock Holmes” star Robert Downey Jr.

Downey Sr. (born Robert Elias and referred to here simply as “Sr.”) may have been little more than a blip on the cinematic radar these last few decades. But in the late 1960s, he became a countercul­ture icon after making such absurdist undergroun­d movies 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 era’s political and social turbulence.

Unfortunat­ely, follow-up films such as 1970’s humansplay­ing-animals comedy “Pound” and 1972’s acid

western-Christ parable, “Greaser’s Palace,” did little to burnish his reputation. He went on to have a kind of herky-jerky helming career until exiting the film scene in 2005 with the Philadelph­iaset documentar­y, “Rittenhous­e Square.”

But it’s Downey Sr. the unconventi­onal family man, as much as the subversive filmmaker, who gets his close-up here, as father and son share time on camera (in person and via COVID-necessitat­ed Zoom and phone calls) from 2019 until Sr.’s death in mid-2021 of complicati­ons from Parkinson’s disease. They chat about life and their many shared experience­s, including Downey Jr.’s formative gigs as a kid 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, perhaps for good reason.)

What most notoriousl­y binds Sr. and son, however, was a long and self-destructiv­e addiction to drugs: Downey Sr.’s began in the mid-’70s; Jr.’s far more welldocume­nted habit landed him a prison stretch a few decades later. The doc touches upon, rather than dissects, the idea that Jr.’s addiction may have been inadverten­tly fostered by his permissive dad, a seemingly pivotal piece of their symbiotic dynamic.

In addition, where exactly was Downey Sr. — not to mention Downey Jr.’s actress-mother and Downey Sr.’s first wife, Elsie (they divorced in 1982) — during Downey Jr.’s darkest days? Just a bit of referencin­g might have helped round out some patchy family history. (Downey Sr. and Elsie’s second child, Allyson, is only fleetingly mentioned and shown.)

But this is mostly a buoyant and affectiona­te portrait, one that enjoyably showcases Downey Sr.’s sweet irascibili­ty (and undeniable charm), Jr.’s offhand jauntiness and the puckish duo’s mutual love of film, family and irreverenc­e. That is its strength and, it seems, raison d’être, even if the film, directed by Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “Fyre”), with what might be called an unofficial assist from Downey Sr., feels largely made up as they went along — and a product of some skillfully managed editing. (Clearly still a director in his bones,

the elder Downey also worked on a kind of shadow version of a bio-doc, bits of which are seen here.)

Shot in New York, L.A. and East Hampton in atmospheri­c black-and-white (effectivel­y recalling the vibe of Sr.’s early output), the movie features an array of clips from most of Downey Sr.’s films, including 1975’s alliterati­vely titled — and narrativel­y incomprehe­nsible — “Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight” and the iconoclast’s one illfated (and admittedly terrible) foray into studio directing, the 1980 militarysc­hool farce, “Up the Academy.”

Snippets of Sr.’s acting stints in a few of his early works as well as a role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” are also woven in, as are interviews with friends including Anderson (who provides personal archival footage), Alan Arkin, Norman Lear and Lawrence Wolf, the last a frequent performer in Downey Sr.’s ’60s and ’70s films.

Additional archival clips of Elsie Downey (a game mainstay in many of Downey Sr.’s films; she died in 2014) and Sr.’s second wife, actress-writer Laura Ernst, who died in 1994 at age 36 of ALS, are featured as well. We also meet Sr.’s third wife, Rosemary; Downey Jr.’s second wife and business partner, Susan (a producer here with Downey Jr.); and Jr. and Susan’s young children, son Exton and, more briefly, daughter Avri.

The good-natured Exton plays a key part toward the end of the doc when he and his dad visit New York to spend some final time with the dying Downey Sr. These concluding moments among three generation­s of Downey men are lovely and memorable.

“Sr.” proves a tender portrait and fitting tribute to an offbeat hero and creative pioneer.

 ?? Netf lix ?? “SR.” honors the late director Robert Downey Sr.
Netf lix “SR.” honors the late director Robert Downey Sr.

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