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About My Father (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 11, 2023


Starring Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche, Kim Cattrall, Brett Dier, Deborah Tucker, Jessie Camacho, Laura Ault, André Wilkerson, Andrea Garnett, Adan James Carrillo, Katie Walker, Carla Christina Contreras, Griffin Hood, Bruce Cooper, Arielle Prepetit, Marisa Cornett, Ana Navarro and Chris Hayes.

Screenplay by Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco.

Directed by Laura Terruso.

Distributed by Lionsgate Films. 121 minutes. Not Rated.

In what must be a record, Robert De Niro – who was once considered the greatest actor in films during the ‘70s, ‘80s and even a bit of the ‘90s – has now essentially been playing the same broad character (caricature?) in most of the multitudes of movies that he’s done for about the last three decades.

Even though we haven’t really met Salvo – the Father in this film’s title – we’ve seen these moves from De Niro many times. It was the same in the questionable likes of Meet the Parents, Bad Grandpa, Everybody’s Fine, Last Vegas, Meet the Fockers, The War With Grandpa, Amsterdam, Little Fockers and even Silver Linings Playbook. You know the type; grumpy, scowling, impatient, judgmental, apparently humorless, slightly goofy, eventually ending up having a heart of gold.

Actually, we have met the character of Salvo, sort of, in the stand-up comedy of Sebastian Maniscalco. About My Father is the comedian’s coming out party on film – he is the star and co-writer – and it is somewhat loosely based upon his comic routines. (Maniscalco had previously done a bit of acting on the side, taking on supporting roles in Green Book and The Irishman.)

This is obviously a deeply personal story to Maniscalco – his character has his own given name and his father’s name is also the real deal. The character based on his wife, on the other hand, has been changed to the extremely WASPy name Ellie Collins, from the more ethnic real-life moniker Lana Gomez. However, actress Leslie Bibb does look quite a bit like his real wife.

About My Father has some very funny parts, but I’m not sure that this film is the announcement of a new, exciting comic voice on the movie scene. Particularly because I’m not quite sure that Maniscalco the screenwriter did many favors to Maniscalco the leading man.

Strangely, to a certain extent Maniscalco has made himself the straight man in his own film, playing it rather sane and close to the vest while surrounded (and slightly dwarfed) by the eccentric talents of De Niro, Bibb, David Rasche and Kim Cattrall. Which, I suppose, is somewhat generous, giving the flashiest moments (for better or worse) to your co-stars.

Sadly, it leaves the star with not all that much to do. The fictional “Sebastian Maniscalco” is sentimental, loving, a tiny bit naïve and not nearly cynical enough to really make an impression. Therefore, it’s up to the audience to decide whether or not they really care about his first-world conflict, and honestly, I’m not sure many people will.

In theory, I guess, About My Father is about class struggles. Sebastian is the son of a Chicago hairdresser who is smart and beloved in his community. Sebastian himself has grown to be a successful manager in one of Chicago’s most exclusive hotels. Irony alert: he’s in love with the daughter of a billionaire competing hotel magnate and his US senator wife (played by David Rasche and Kim Cattrall).

When his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb) wants Sebastian to spend the Fourth of July weekend at her parents’ massive compound, Sebastian feels guilty about leaving dad for the holiday. Therefore Ellie suggests that Salvo come stay as well.

The problem is, the rich people, while certainly spoiled, eccentric and more than willing to exploit their riches, turn out to be basically good, caring people. They may sometimes do the wrong things, but they mostly do them for the right reasons.

And honestly, Sebastian’s dad can be kind of a judgmental dick.

This leads to a whole series of fish out of water gags in which Sebastian tries desperately to play peacemaker between the two worlds. Some of those gags work, but just as often they go spectacularly awry. For example, there is one extended joke about a peacock which is far, far, over the line of taste. No. Just no.

I’m not sure that is the class struggle statement that Maniscalco meant to impart, but honestly by the end of the film, the viewer feels more empathy for the out-of-touch rich folk than the down-to-earth “normal guy.”

We’re never totally sure why Sebastian is willing to be so overprotective about his father, but then again, he feels like an awkward fit with Ellie, too. Bibb, who is always a likable presence on film, seems to be bouncing off the walls in this film. I can only assume that was how she was directed to play the role, but it makes her character oddly cartoonish, just like dad.

Maybe the real revelation of About My Father is that Sebastian Maniscalco has strange tastes in who he decides to love.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: May 26, 2023.


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