Watching “Sr” (by the Roberts Downey)

The documentary “Sr” by Robert Downey Jr., illustrates the life and career of his father, film-maker Robert Downey Sr. The documentary follows Sr as he navigates his son’s attempt to make a documentary about his life.

The silent driver of this loving film is that Sr has been diagnosed with Parkinsons disease. His son Robert wants to capture a portrait of his father and his life and tell his dad’s story while he still can. Throughout the project, Sr participates actively, both as a willing partner who advises and informs his son, and also as an almost-competitor, shooting his own version of scenes or improvising shots and dialogue.

In a kind of stream-of-conscious style, the narrative flashes back to Sr’s past career highs and lows using footage from his film projects and family photographs, giving us glimpses into the highs and lows of the whole family and how aspects of Jr’s life and career have mirrored those of his father. It also shows how Robert Jr. and his own son take part n the project, mixing family visits to see Grandpa with little scenes which may be patched into an as-yet-to-be-seen movie scrapbook.

As the film unfurls you become aware that you’re watching something that’s being assembled in real-time, experiencing its construction almost as if from the inside.

The strongest element to me was the obviously loving bond between father and son, as the Roberts Downey work together on what becomes “their” film: they argue, they fuss, and they joke, drawing you into their individual perspectives as they wink and give personal reflections in casual little aside moments. You see up-close how a son and father connect, relate, and reconnect, often in heart-breakingly intimate close-ups.

Overall, it’s a wonderfully warm and intimate portrait of a family that’s lived and worked both in front of and behind the lens, steeped in film-making both as a profession and as a way to apprehend and process the world around them.


Author: E. John Love

E. John Love is an artist, designer and writer living in Vancouver, BC.