Sebastian Maniscalco, currently America’s most popular comedian, amiably approximates himself in the new comedy About My Father opposite a game Robert DeNiro as a movie version of his real-life dad, Salvo Maniscalco. Co-written by the comedian-actor and directed by Laura Terruso, the picture is a self-reflexive, coming-to-terms family comedy broadly performed and breaking no new ground but not without warmth and professionalism courtesy of its enjoyable cast.
The Chicago born and raised entertainer (Green Book, The Irishman) stars as one Sebastian Maniscalco, a working class raised, Sicilian-American Chicago hotel manager engaged to wealthy WASP dream girl and artist Ellie (Leslie Bibb). Maniscalco is consumed by anxiety upon Ellie’s invitation to meet her blue-blooded East Coast family over an extended 4th of July weekend getaway.
He’s especially nervous about bringing along his plainspoken, salt-of-the-earth dad Salvo (DeNiro)—a career ladies’ hairstylist whom we first meet ponytailed, proudly breezing around his south side salon—to meet Ellie’s uber-wealthy, country club loving clan. You can see where this is going—culture clash, comedy of embarrassment, opposite social mores, et al. Yet not quite.
On arrival we meet Ellie’s parents, well played by David Rasche, a hoot lampooning a 1% hotel magnate, and Kim Cattrall, a cheery former senator who will come to regret consenting to Salvo’s scissors, and a pair of good for nothing brothers written as caricatures, a smarmy, preppy tennis pro and helicopter pilot (Anders Holm) and a bowl-playing, new age nut (Brett Dier) who disavows the family’s capitalist privilege, lecturing that their beloved country club was “built by slaves.” Rasche’s reaction to this bit is priceless.
The weekend doesn’t quite go down as expected, Ellie’s family a whole lot nicer and accommodating than we expect, the picture’s real conflict ultimately between a father and adult son in a push-pull of old, new and shared values and experiences. In this way, the picture is a love letter to the real life Salvo, so well-played by DeNiro, an ace comedian who in this late act of his career is called upon to sell a ridiculous (and very funny) bit about a family peacock mascot that unwittingly becomes a main course and an assorted other hijinks, back in Meet the Parents mode yet this time he’s the one meeting the parents. It’s hugely entertaining to see the master actor clearly enjoying himself so, and in two late scenes opposite Manascalco—a late night bedroom confrontation and an eleventh hour scene of reconciliation—DeNiro switches gears to something poignant.
There are broadly played sequences, some of which land better than others, including a helicopter panic attack and a jet-booting episode that goes on too long and is about half as funny as the picture believes, while the screenplay, co-written by Maniscalaco and friend Austen Earl, considers fathers and sons in both families as well as the notion of immigrants, Salvo a first generation Sicilian-American worker and Ellie’s family, naturally, descendants of the Mayflower. But About My Father is really a gentle father and son reunification tale and a lesson on the importance of family, and on that seriocomic level it works, however slightly.
No doubt some will find the film familiar and less than inspired, but if a comedy makes you laugh then it works—and this one had me chuckling, despite its easy aims.