“Sr.” review – a film about the connections between family, art, and everything in between

By Marc Miller
Published: November 30, 2022 (Last updated: February 8, 2024)


In a way, “Sr.” is not just a celebration of a nonconformist filmmaker’s punk rock rebellion and “go f*ck yourself” attitude, but how the man and his maverick offspring saved their own lives by moving forward, never back.

We review the Netflix documentary film “Sr.”, which will be released on the platform on December 2nd, 2022.

You will hear a lot of talk about filmmakers making movies of a personal nature during almost any awards season. This year is no exception, with Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans arriving over Thanksgiving. Another is the latest Netflix documentary film from Chris Smith (Fyre), which explores parallel (and the very cross-sectional) connections between father and son and the artist and their audience. The film’s subject is not Iron Man, although Robert Downey Jr. is a very prominent figure in the movie, some might say an even bigger subject than the titular character viewed her. That man is his father, “Sr.”, a filmmaker with a punk rock mentality and “go f*ck yourself” attitude that made him a legend in the land of broken dreams.

Robert Downey Sr. was a counterculture film icon who created movies across New York City without the burden of answering to big studios issuing the checks. The man made his mark, particularly with a film called Putney Swope, a madcap comedy that satirizes the use of race in marketing and advertising. The film was such an underground critical success that it eventually became issued into the Library of Congress National Film Registry, an eye-opening accomplishment since, as “Sr.” puts it, it’s usually reserved for big-budget Hollywood fare.

Smith’s film looks at RDJ’s father as a contributor to irreverent comedy and at the forefront of counterculture moviemaking. “Sr.” takes an intimate look at his relationship with his family, which has no boundaries between work and home. The documentary even has footage of RDJ’s big screen debut, less than five years old, in his father’s film Pound. The ultra-cute “Jr.” delivers a perfect line, and in his father’s words, in just one take.

Even after their divorce, Downey cast his wife and Robert’s mother, Elsie, in almost all of his movies. He credited her for sacrificing a career destined for bigger and better things to stick with the movement they believed in. Think of all you have been reading in the past decade about social justice causes. And how the establishment refused to make films that reflected what America looked like. That’s where Putney Swope comes in. A mirror film that reflected what the land of Angels was blatantly ignoring.

You can argue “Sr.” does not actively look too deeply at the relationship between The Downeys, the family business, and how this affected some dark paths for two generations of Downey men. And that’s a fair point, considering they both admittedly, yet briefly, talk about their issues with addiction. Even more jaw-dropping is a scene RDJ lets the camera capture with his therapist that captures that underlying sentiment.

They mention that his father allowed him to use drugs as a child. That teaser leaves a feeling of the bulk of the story being left off-camera intentionally. And the viewer is not allowed to see how the rebellion and movement may have directly affected that family dynamic. This brings up the point, do we need it? Most of this is well-documented. And this is not at all surprising. Especially considering if you know anything about RDJ’s interviews, he will rarely, if ever, let anyone in the media dictate questions about that struggle in his life.

However, that is beside the point, honestly. How many films have we watched in which giant man babies blame their parents, especially their fathers, for their lots in life? I’m sure the actor has his own thoughts on the subject that he keeps to himself. “Sr.” is not about looking back at past mistakes but moving forward, always into the future. That is a constant battle with addiction, where rumination leads to relapses. There is a scene where the camera captures three generations of Downey men that may reveal what the film is really about.

In a way, “Sr.” is not just a celebration of a nonconformist filmmaker’s life but inadvertently shines a light on how the man and his maverick offspring manage to save their own. Perhaps so those same mistakes will not affect any other generational member of the Downey clan. Robert Downey Jr has not just done right by his father but by himself and his family.

What did you think of the Netflix documentary film “Sr.”? Comment below.

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