Monday, March 4, 2024

Movie Review: ‘About My Father’ is an Imperfect, Infectious Comedy

Director: Laura Terruso

Writers: Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco

Stars: Robert DeNiro, Leslie Bibb, Kim Cattrall

Synopsis: When Sebastian tells his old-school Italian immigrant father Salvo that he is going to propose to his all-American girlfriend, Salvo insists on crashing a weekend with her tony parents.

Even if you are a serious cinephile who considers film an art form, you have to be a fan of genre movies. From the drenched digital effects of an action-adventure picture to the ominous murder-mystery thriller, movies are meant to entertain the masses. The same goes for the semi-autobiographical comedy that makes you laugh from your gut, despite its faults. That’s what you have with About My Father, coming from the mind of one of the hottest comedians in the world, Sebastian Maniscalco. This is a comedy in the vein of Meet the Parents and Wedding Crashers that plays into standard family dynamic tropes but happens to be very funny,

Directed by Laura Terruso, About My Father was written by Maniscalco and veteran CBS sitcom writer Austen Earl. The story follows Sebastian, a Hilton hotel manager who is dating Ellie, a delightful artist played by Leslie Bibb. Ellie has a down-to-earth personality and a sparkling smile that lights up the room. They are your classic “opposites attract” type of couple, with Ellie bringing a smile to Sebastian that he didn’t know he had. Quite literally, Ellie has to teach him how to practice and strengthen his facial muscles to smile more consistently.

The couple comes from extraordinarily different backgrounds. Ellie’s family can trace their roots back to the actual Mayflower. Her mother, Tigger (Kim Cattrall), and her father, Bill (David Rasche), are your typical blue-blood yuppies who lament that his father only gave him one hotel to start after he graduated from Harvard. Not to mention her brothers: Lucky (Anders Holms), a champagne socialist, and Doug (Brett Dier), a hippie trained in the art of Tibetan singing bowls, round out an eccentric group.

On the other hand, Sebastian comes from a blue-collar family led by his father, Salvo (Robert De Niro), a stylist who has been building women’s confidence and hair volume for decades. Knowing the value of a dollar, Salvo would always keep his son from ordering appetizers or desserts off the menu. When Christmas came, he would make homemade toys for Sebastian, such as a skateboard (and comments next year, he will make him “one of those Nintendos”). Sebastian needs his grandmother’s ring from Salvo, which he plans to give Ellie as he asks her to marry him. However, his father will only allow it once he meets Ellie’s family at their summer home on the Fourth of July.

The comedy is inspired by Maniscalco’s father, an immigrant from Sicily and an Army veteran who supported his family by being a hairstylist in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago. As a fan of Maniscalco for years, going way back to the days of the 2008 documentary comedy tour Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days and 30 Nights – Hollywood to the Heartland, not much has changed since then. The finely groomed and cologne-doused Italian American comedian, with a penchant for class, style, and dry cleaning every piece of clothing down to his boxer shorts, has the same cartoonish delivery that makes for a welcomed juxtaposition on stage, as it does in this film.

About My Father excels when Maniscalco waxes poetically about his life and nostalgically looks back at his upbringing. You’ll also enjoy how the comedian openly disagrees with his father but recognizes the differences in lifestyles with these blue bloods that cannot be ignored. It’s no coincidence that those scenes, particularly when Sebastian and De Niro’s Salvo begin to make jokes at his future in-laws’ expense in private, work because they are straight from the theme of Maniscalco’s “Can you believe this?” stand-up act.

The cast has a nice chemistry together, including the humorous rapport between De Niro and Maniscalco. This is their second film together since The Irishman, where, if you remember, the latter received a bullet to the head from the legendary actor. De Niro has always been comedically gifted in culture clash comedies, but he never plays against type for a reason. While most characters outside the leads are cardboard cutouts from genre comedies, Cattrall stands out the most here as a fire-breathing conservative politician. While some scenes are typically outlandish (such as Sebastian losing his shorts on a Flyboard) and others may elicit eye-rolls (like Salvo using a family mascot for dinner), the scenes are still funny, albeit a bit too long and overplayed at times. The scenes where Sebastian is overtly rude to his father are purely manipulative to play into themes of the comedian coming to his own realization of what family means to him.

Still, you don’t go into About My Father expecting a reinvention of the genre with its lightning-quick running time. It’s a culture clash farce that works because of Maniscalco’s style of comedy and De Niro playing to his long-established comic strengths as a cynical curmudgeon set in his ways. This highly enjoyable movie has an infectious sense of humor and delivers a handful of belly laughs that will put a smile on your face, even as you come to terms with its imperfections.

Grade: B+

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