“Sr.”: An Irreverent Portrait of Robert Downey Sr.

L-R: Robert Downey Sr. and Robert Downey Jr. in Sr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

“Sr.”, a documentary about the late filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., follows him in the final years of his life and is a loving tribute.

Chances are likely that you’re more familiar with Robert Downey Jr. than his father. Maybe you’re familiar with the filmmaker’s half-brother, Jim Downey, from his work on SNL. In any event, Robert Downey Sr. was making his mark on the American counterculture through his comedy movies in the 1960s and 1970s. There are clips throughout the film of Downey’s work in addition to interview appearances. In addition to film and family, he also discusses his move from Los Angeles to New York in the latter part of his career.

Netflix acquired the film a few weeks after the world premiere at Telluride and ahead of the NYFF premiere. Upcoming festival screenings include the Chicago International Film Festival and AFI FEST. If you miss one of the film festival screenings, “Sr.” will be on the streaming service by the end of the year.

When one steps back to think about how filmmaker Chris Smith, editor Kevin Ford, and the Downeys approach this film, the black-and-white doc is absolutely perfect in every way because of its irreverence. There’s even a film within the film as the elder Downey makes his own cut of the footage. Knowing the background, it’s the irreverent sort of documentary that one would expect. Even while he was battling Parkinson’s in his final years, he still had a director’s state of mind. They took the edit into his bedroom when his health prevented him from leaving bed. The younger Downey appeared in eight films directed by his father and also acted in two films with him. In many ways, this documentary comes full circle since RDJ produces the film with his wife, Susan.

There are poignant moments while watching the film. One of them comes when they’re discussing his second wife, Laura Downey, who died of ALS. It isn’t just that they had to deal with her diagnosis and passing in the early 1990s.  While Laura was dying of ALS, RDJ had a serious drug addiction. She was one of the few who could put him in his place so to speak. Interestingly enough, the elder Downey also had his own drug issues and that’s what more or less led to RDJ’s battles.

One film that came out of all of this was 1997’s Hugo Pool. The film was released a few years after Laura’s death. While I haven’t seen the film yet, I’m making a point to check it out at some point this year for its 25th anniversary. From what I can tell, it’s not available on any streaming services but this is the sort of film that came through the battles that the Downey family was dealing with.

Outside of the Downey family, “Sr.” features appearances from Norman Lear, Alan Arkin, and Paul Thomas Anderson. All in all, this is the sort of documentary that goes places that we don’t expect. It’s not exactly an upbeat film although there are moments where you can’t help but laugh. Even with his failing heath, the elder Downey could still crack some jokes! Outside of his work and the aforementioned discussion on Laura and RDJ’s drug addiction, the film features conversations on aging, working in Hollywood. Nevertheless, the film remains poignant throughout the 89-minute run time.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship through the years, “Sr.” is a loving and irreverent tribute from a son to his dad. It is also one of the best documentaries of the year. If you know absolutely nothing about the filmmaker going into watching the documentary, the film works as a solid introduction.

DIRECTOR: Chris Smith
FEATURING: Robert Downey Sr., Robert Downey Jr., Norman Lear, Alan Arkin, Paul Thomas Anderson

Sr. held its New York premiere during the 2022 New York Film Festival in the Spotlight program. Netflix will release the film later in 2022. Grade: 5/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.