About My Father

About My Father

2023, PG-13, 89 min. Directed by Laura Terruso. Starring Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche, Kim Cattrall.

REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., May 26, 2023

About My Father is another one of those tepid studio comedies best described as meeting the technical qualifications of a film: There are moving images, a semblance of a plot, an adherence to the tropes of its particular genre, actors — you know, a movie. But one so low-energy, uninspired, and instantly forgettable that you may struggle to remember what you watched. It’s not aggressively bad — it doesn’t give you the courtesy of the fascination in watching something crash and burn — it’s just resolutely run on autopilot. Shot and lit like a mediocre sitcom and with jokes and scenarios so dull you can practically feel the energy being sucked out of the theatre, it’s striking how wooden a movie based on its writer and star’s lived experience can feel in practice.

The man in question would be stand-up comedy megastar Sebastian Maniscalco, embracing his first real headlining film role in a largely autobiographical mode: He even uses his own name for his character, as well as that of his father, Salvo Maniscalco, played with a familiar checked-out boredom by Robert De Niro in another one of his late-career lazy comedy projects like Dirty Grandpa or The War With Grandpa. He’s not Grandpa here, but he is “cranky out-of-touch old Italian guy,” an archetype De Niro seems content to be on call for between more reputable projects like a career-best turn in The Irishman. I respect his willingness to show up for both.

Here, he’s cranky because Sebastian is dumping him over the Fourth of July weekend to spend the holiday at his girlfriend Ellie’s (Bibb) family’s country club, where he plans to propose. Ellie insists that Salvo tag along, and so begins the “collision-of-the-families” movie where both sides are faced with a clash of class and culture between Salvo’s hardscrabble, blue-collar immigrant worldview and Ellie’s family’s bubble of affluence, with Sebastian in between both sides hoping they’ll be able to see eye to eye.

A familiar plot doesn’t automatically equal a bad movie, but this is just crummy through and through. Starting with an awkward, overbearing narration to set the dynamics, by the time the interfamily antics start it’s become long clear that there’s just nothing of interest here. Maniscalco may be a successful stand-up but his screen presence is piffling, and the script he’s co-written with Austen Earl is bland in its comedy and hackneyed in its cloying messaging about the importance of family. Throw in a thread about how this is the heartwarming coming-together of “two different types of immigrant stories” when one of those stories is about literal descendants of passengers on the Mayflower and it becomes hilariously tone-deaf in the eleventh hour. Every decent comedic performer is underutilized, though a shout-out is owed to David Rasche (most recognizable as Karl from Succession), who earns the most genuine laughs as Ellie’s overbearing father, doing all he can to save the scenes he’s in.

Maniscalco often talks about his father in his stand-up acts. Watching this film enforces the idea that maybe that’s where this story should have stayed.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

About My Father, Laura Terruso, Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche, Kim Cattrall

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