Review: Parents meet, comedy does not ensue in Sebastian Maniscalco’s ‘About My Father’
The family comedy “About My Father,” co-written and starring popular stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, offers a few random chuckles and an earnest, if strained message about appreciating one’s well-meaning parents, warts and all. But between Maniscalco’s overly episodic, shamelessly semi-autobiographical script (written with Austen Earl) and Laura Terruso’s uneven direction, this at times absurdly contrived film often resembles something made up on the fly.
Inspired by Maniscalco’s relationship with his Sicilian immigrant father, Salvo, the movie finds its main character, a Chicago hotel manager also named Sebastian Maniscalco (really?), ready to pop the question to his sprightly and beautiful artist girlfriend, Ellie Collins (Leslie Bibb). He’d like to propose over the upcoming July 4th weekend, which they’re spending with Ellie’s wealthy family at their plush Virginia summer home. The only catch: Sebastian can’t leave behind his cranky, widowed father, a longtime hairdresser named — you guessed it — Salvo (Robert De Niro), for the holiday they’ve always enjoyed together.
Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco got a masterclass in acting from Robert De Niro in ‘About My Father’
The film inspired by the comedian’s relationship with his real-life Italian dad premieres on Thursday
The only solution: Bring Papa along. It’s a prospect that rattles the cautious Sebastian, who fears his frugal, old-school Italian dad will embarrass him in front of his classy, Mayflower-descended in-laws-to-be. (From the start, you want to shout, “Grow up!” to the often-hapless Sebastian, who’s written here as 42; the real-life Maniscalco turns 50 in July). Dad’s eager to join his son and check out the Collinses, especially before handing over a family heirloom that Sebastian wants to give Ellie as an engagement ring.
Given De Niro’s front-and-center appearance, it’s kind of like “Meet the Parents 4,” but with the parents in question needing to impress another parent — and then vice versa. Cue the “rollicking” culture clash as Salvo gripes and criticizes his way through a series of celebratory activities hosted by Ellie’s parents — hearty hotel-magnate Bill (David Rasche) and the hard-driving Tigger (Kim Cattrall), a U.S. senator — at their lovely, clubby country estate. Also around are Ellie’s hyper-privileged, man-child brothers: obnoxious, ne’er-do-well pilot, golfer and unabashed substance abuser, Lucky (Anders Holm), and spacey, new-age devotee, Doug (Brett Dier). It’s a silly, eccentric bunch though, credit where it’s due, at least the Collinses aren’t drawn as your stereotypical WASP prigs.
During a few frantic days, lessons are inevitably learned and relationships recalibrated, but the slapdash script struggles to make much that happens feel particularly authentic (stranger still since it’s partly based in fact). It opts for too many broad, clunky or far-fetched beats to move the story and its requisite emotional needs forward, rather than weave a more organic, effectively lived-in and, yes, genuinely funny tale. Scenes such as a “revealing” water-sports mishap, an appallingly concocted pasta dinner, an extreme hairstyling mistake and, especially, a climactic face-off on an airport tarmac are simply too wildly illogical and ill-conceived to take at all seriously (or humorously).
As the obstinate Salvo, De Niro is typically game and watchable but offers little new in a role he’s now played a few too many times. Maniscalco has an appealing presence but needed stronger direction to shape his part and find his character’s center. The same goes for the rest of the cast, who often seem to be off doing their own thing (especially Cattrall, who chews a surprising amount of scenery).
Honest, warmhearted, relatable comedies about the complex push-pull between parents and children are always welcome — which makes the generically titled “About My Father” that much more of a missed opportunity. Something tells me, though, that with firmer guidance and more objective, discerning collaborators, Maniscalco may have a better observational comedy in him.
'About My Father'
Rating: PG-13, for suggestive material, language and partial nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Starts May 26 in general release
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