Robert Downey Jr. and Sr. bond and reflect over life’s work in “Sr.”


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Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Downey Sr. attend a red carpet event together.

“We’re just having fun and getting started,” Robert Downey Sr. says as he twists a snake-headed cane in one hand. From the first minute of the new documentary film, I could tell “Sr.” would be a wondrous melange of intimate yet celebratory moments from the filmmaker’s life.

“Sr.,” directed by Chris Smith, is a documentary that covers Downey Sr.’s career and relationship with his son, “Ironman” actor Robert Downey Jr. Downey Sr. also made his own cut of the film, which is featured in some parts of the documentary.

In the 1960s, Downey Sr. began making low-budget films that gained attention for their irreverent plots, characters and timelines, contributing to the counterculture movement. His most popular films include “Putney Swope” (1969 – about an advertising agency after the executive dies), “Chafed Elbows” (1966 – about a man who marries his mother) and “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985 – a Secret Service agent on a quest for revenge).

When asked about “Chafed Elbows,” Downey Sr. said, “my mother didn’t appreciate ‘Chafed Elbows,’ I’ll tell you. Jesus.”

A traditional documentary might flow sequentially, but there is something natural about the way seemingly random moments are stitched together to form a glowing portrait of the father and son’s relationship. The film feels like a collection of loosely tied together memories: Downey Jr.’s children play in the backyard of his Hampton’s home; Downey Sr. celebrates his birthday with friends; and throughout, there are clips from Downey Sr.’s films.

One of my favorite scenes in the documentary comes towards the end. At the request of his dad, Downey Jr. relearns Franz Schubert’s “Fischerweise,” a German song he performed at age 15 in the Kiwanis Music Festival.

The camera pans from Downey Jr. singing the song as he walks out from behind a tree, per his father’s request, to Downey Sr. on a bed, laying down and laughing while he watches it in his own home. Over the course of the film, Downey Sr.’s Parkinson’s transforms and becomes an ever-present part of their lives. There’s something truly special about this part of the movie because we as the audience, probably laying on a couch or bed, see Downey Jr.’s performance the same way his father did. I think that’s when it hits: the idea that we can ignore Downey Sr.’s disease for much of the movie, as father and son tried to do, but there comes a point when we can’t.

Downey Sr. finished the final cut of his version of the film just as his health began to decline further. He passed away soon after.

There is beauty to remembering and holding on to memories. Little moments of joy can capture and hold onto you just as well as grief can. This film is a balance of happy and sad and everything in between. It feels like a son introducing us to his father just as he’s saying goodbye to him.

“Sr.” is available to watch on Netflix.