“About My Father” is a 2023 comedy film directed by Laura Terruso and stars comedian Sebastian Maniscalco as essentially himself. The tag-line is it’s a comedy based on his life in Chicago and connection with his father, Salvo Maniscalco (Robert De Niro), an over-the-top Chicago hairstylist. A few of the cast here, including De Niro and Kim Cattrall, are what drew my attention and having just seen the excellent film done by Ray Romano ‘Somewhere In Queens’, I thought this would be a great addition in that category. Therein lies my first mistake. Lightening rarely strikes twice.
The film follows Sebastian, who in real life is apparently quite a successful stand-up comedian, here though, he works at a hotel. As he prepares to propose to his girlfriend, Kelly (Leslie Bibb). Salvo isn’t happy about this and even less so that Sebastian is heading out of town to Kelly’s wealthy family home, to be with her eccentric family, right-wing Senator Tigger Collins (Kim Cattrall), and hotelier Bill Collins (David Rasche), and brothers Lucky (Anders Holm), and Doug (Brett Dier) for the 4th of July, something they always spend together in the city. So it comes as no surprise that the gathering soon goes awry. And so begins the collision-of-the-families movie where both sides are faced with a clash of class and culture between Salvo’s blue-collar immigrant worldview – where he gives the inevitable old guilt speech of how he scrambled to come here to give his son a better life-song and dance. Then there is Ellie’s family’s bubble of born with a silver spoon affluence, finding Sebastian in the middle between both sides hoping they’ll be able to see eye to eye. This is where the hijinks is supposed to begin as Salvo does what he can to try and sabotage the relationship.
Now, fair play here – I’ve never seen Maniscalco’s full comedy act so I can’t judge it on the whole, I have however seen a few clips and some of his interviews, most particularly the one where he puts down his wife abhorrently to her face. It’s not a pleasant watch, but I went into this with open arms again, mostly for De Niro and Cattrall. What I got was De Niro starting off the film in a bad wig, trying to de-age his character into the 80’s with ZERO success. He basically phoned in this performance. The film itself doesn’t even extend the courtesy of trying most of the time, it just crashes and burns almost harder with each scene — almost like it’s run on autopilot. Shot like mediocre sitcom, with jokes and scenarios so dull you can practically feel the energy being sucked out of the theatre while you have resigned yourself to just sitting and watching it happen.
Maniscalco might be a successful stand-up but his screen presence is paltry by comparison, and the script he’s co-written with Austen Earl is bland in its comedy and vapid in its saccharin message about the importance of family. Throw in a quick thread about how this is the heartwarming coming-together of “two different types of immigrant stories” in the eleventh hour when one of those stories is so hilariously tone-deaf, it almost has you grinding your teeth in dismay. Every decent comedic performer is underutilized, even Cattrall tries to work with the material she’s given and has a moment or two, De Niro is so sadly used here it should be illegal.Though a shout-out is owed to David Rasche who earns the most genuine laughs (mind you these are short and few) as Ellie’s overbearing father, doing all he can to save the scenes he is in.
Beyond that, nothing here will come at a surprise to the viewer, not the beginning, not the middle, not the end, so whether the jokes somehow land with them or not is for each to decide. With the film being slow at times, picking up the pace into absurd-ness at others. I wish I had laughed more than once.
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“ABOUT MY FATHER” FROM LIONSGATE IS OUT IN THEATERS FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2023
Review Screening: Thursday, May 11, 2023 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate