July 30, 2020  (Web Review)

The Etruscan Smile

MVD, 107 minutes, R, in English and Gaelic w/English subtitles, DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $24.95, Jun. 16

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

The first feature for award-winning filmmakers Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun, derived from the novel by José Luis Sampedro, is a three-hankie tearjerker that flirts dangerously with a formula on occasion but is smart enough to know when to zig when audiences expect a zag. In the Hebrides isles of Scotland, Rory MacNeil (Brian Cox) is a 74-year-old Highlander from a world of ancient clan feuds and families who can trace their lineage 2,000 years. Diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, he travels to San Francisco to drop in unexpectedly on his son Ian (JJ Feild), who incurred the old man’s disdain by discarding his Scots “warrior” heritage and a life plan to work as a chemist and instead became a Bay Area sous chef. Ian and his careerist wife (Thora Birch) have recently had their first baby, and Rory is determined to bond with his grandson in what little time he has left, despite the parents’ decidedly modern, non-warrior theories of parenting. Meanwhile, San Francisco looks radiant, as does a seasoned Rosanna Arquette as an art-gallery expert who becomes a late-in-life love interest for the still-randy Rory. Thanks to her connections, he is a guest and study subject for a group of academics fascinated by his Gaelic dialect. There are some fish-out-of-water culture-shock beats, but Cox never lets Rory become a Mike-Myers-style caricature, and the sturdy cast also includes nice turns by Tim Matheson and Treat Williams. The Etruscan Smile is an apt candidate for special shelf displays around Father’s Day, and this joins Field of Dreams and a few others as that rare thing, an intelligent male-oriented weepie. (C. Cassady)