Sr.: The Robert Downey Jr.-Produced Documentary Takes An Intimate Look At A Rebel Filmmaker, His Father

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Downey Sr. in Sr.
(Image credit: Netflix)

It’s rare that one of the highest-paid actors offers an intimate look at their life. It’s even rarer when they allow the world to grieve with them. Robert Downey Jr. has done this in a documentary that he co-produced called Sr., which is one of the most anticipated Robert Downey Jr. upcoming projects because it is more personal and offers a portrait of his father. 

Fans know the actor as Tony Stark and his many other great characters. Only his real friends and family know the man beyond the on-screen persona. However, Sr. gives viewers a slight glimpse of his real life, but this film isn’t about him. It’s about Robert Downey Sr., his father, a bold and interesting filmmaker who started his career in the 1960s. 

This is a documentary, a letter from a son to his father, a goodbye, and an exploration of the filmmaking process. I was able to see Sr. at the Chicago International Film Festival ahead of its Netflix release, which is set for December 2nd. It’s a captivating film that should be added to your must-watch list. 

Robert Downey Sr. interview with Paul Thomas Anderson for the Criterion Collection

(Image credit: Criterion Collection)

The Basics Of Sr.

The footage of Sr. starts in 2019 and ends in 2021. It tells a few different stories, and the main one captures this moment the elder Downey's life. He passed away in 2021 from Parkinson’s disease complications. The movie shows his deteriorating health during the time of filming, but it isn’t all about his declining health, as it’s simply a part of Downey Sr.’s story and so it is a part of the movie.

The film mourns him by celebrating him. It shows how much his family and friends love him, the admiration others in the movie business have for him, and the bold nature of his choices and movies. His career plays a major role in telling this story. This almost makes the documentary a beginner's guide to his work. 

Robert Downey Sr. in Boogie Nights

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

It’s A Good Introduction To The Work Of Robert Downey Sr.  

Many may already be huge fans of Robert Downey Sr. and the documentary just serves as a reminder of his fascinating career. However, there are probably even more people who see Sr. with no familiarity of his films. I was one of those people. 

Therefore, I found it striking to see the differences between his career and his son’s career. He was this experimental underground filmmaker who rejected the Hollywood machine, and his son became one of the people helping it grow stronger.

His movies seem bold and weird in a way current Hollywood films would never be brave enough to attempt. His filmography includes movies like Putney Swope., which took on topics of race and corporate greed. This documentary will make you seek out his movies, either to see if they’re as strange as they seem, or from a general desire to watch them, as the story creates genuine curiosity about Robert Downey Sr.’s films. 

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The Story Follows A Son’s Goodbye To His Father

It takes a while for the film to address the elephant in the room: Robert Downey Sr.’s impending death. Everyone behind the camera knows it's coming. Once it’s addressed, it gets to the heart of the movie: the final goodbye. 

Director Chris Smith often focuses on everyday, casual scenes between father and son. We see junior and senior interacting like any typical father and son for most of the movie. However, when senior begins to become less of a presence in the film due to his health, we feel the weight of these final moments. His son must begin to imagine a life without his father.

The two men also reflect on their relationship, with the older man showing his guilt and regrets for his involvement in Robert Downey Jr’s battle with addiction. There is no drama or animosity shown on screen between the men, but the viewers feel the complexity of their relationship. 

Sr. is a very human film and that means the flaws and scars are present, even if not explicitly shown.  

Robert Downey Sr. in From Other Worlds

(Image credit: Belladonna Prods.)

It’s An Experimental Documentary  

Many believe that the best documentaries follow a certain style or narrative. Sr. doesn’t quite follow the typical path. At times it feels like a documentary within a documentary. There are so many different stories being told. This is partly due to scenes of the director filming his own documentary while Chris Smith is filming this one.

It switches between Downey Sr.’s experimental style of filming and Smith’s more casual way of telling this story. It does have some of the elements of a typical documentary, such as found footage, a straightforward narrative, and a clear subject. It just doesn’t feel like it quite has a concrete format and method. 

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Sr. Offers A Glimpse Of Robert Downey Jr.’s Home Life

Sr. is very much about Downey Sr., but Downey Jr. is a constant in the film. This means that viewers sometimes get to see him at home with his family, and as a father himself. His relationship with his own son, Exton, becomes a minor part of the story, especially as Sr. draws closer to Downey Sr.’s final days.

The Iron Man actor has a very distinct persona, but other layers show throughout the documentary. There are small moments where viewers get to see him as a father and son. It doesn’t offer too many of these moments, however, when they happen, viewers stop seeing him as this mega movie star, and just as this man who wants to honor his dad and his legacy. 

It’s those moments that give Sr. its human connection. You can tell from how the film plays out that Robert Downey Sr. probably didn’t want Sr. to be too sentimental. This choice allows it to nicely balance emotional moments with a straightforward experimental biography. 

These elements work because the movie is both a fascinating portrait of this movie-making rebel and a final tribute to a father from a son. It makes you reflect on your own mortality, legacy, and relationship with your parents or children. 

In September, Tudum (opens in new tab) announced that Netflix acquired the rights to Sr. However, no streaming release date has been officially announced. According to the announcement about Netflix obtaining the distribution rights, there are plans to release it before 2022 ends. This may mean that Sr. will be available on Netflix by the end December. 

You can check the CinemaBlend upcoming movies list and the upcoming Netflix movies list for updates on the release of Sr.

Jerrica Tisdale
Freelance Writer

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.