Sadly, new romantic comedy About My Father is not a companion piece to Pedro Almodóvar’s magnificent All About My Mother, but instead an attempted star vehicle for rising stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who makes a lot of jokes about being Italian that so inspire fits of wheezing laughter in the lucrative middle-aged white male demographic. Maniscalco himself co-wrote the script, inspired by the cantankerous but heartfelt relationship he shares with his own father, an Italian immigrant whose love of both the Old World and his family apparently makes him an easy target for jokes that would have seemed stale in 1976. Any Italian stereotype you can imagine is trotted out here, and even some that seems entirely fabricated, such as how Italian men are known for their “resting bitch face.” Are they? Is this a thing people say? Based solely on the evidence presented on screen, Maniscalco seems to believe that Italian men are the most persecuted people on the planet — in this, the year of our Lord 2023. About My Father, then, operates as his plea for tolerance, even as the film only serves to reinforce outdated stereotypes in the grossest way possible, all while posing as yet another tired Meet the Parents retread.
Maniscalco plays a man named Sebastian Maniscalco — but he’s not playing himself, so already what are we even doing? This Sebastian is a hotel manager in Chicago who is dating WASP-y artist Ellie (Leslie Bibb), who seems to paint the same picture of a sort of vagina over and over, and thus is successful. Sebastian is ready to propose, but his Sicilian father, Salvo (Robert De Niro), won’t give up the family ring until he meets the future in-laws, Bill (David Rasche) and Tigger (Kim Cattrall). As luck would have it, everyone is invited to a Fourth of July holiday weekend at the couple’s summer home, which is located in the kind of Cape Cod-y place where rich people gather and watch Fox News. Sebastian is worried that his father will embarrass him, because Salvo has a strong work ethic and values every dollar earned, plus he occasionally speaks in Italian, which, mamma mia! The rest of About My Father follows in this fashion, setting viewers up for all sorts of wacky comedic set pieces, such as a volatile tennis match between family members, the murder of a peacock (don’t ask), and a bout of inadvertent public nudity. Yet each one is executed in the most shrug-worthy way possible, as if the scenario itself was all that was necessary and not the jokes that should be located within them. Laura Terruso’s lifeless direction certainly doesn’t help matters, and neither does that fact that so much of About My Father consists of terribly written dialogue exchanges set in nondescript rooms, none more so than when it comes to Sebastian and Salvo, who spend the majority of the film having the same conversation over and over, always in the same clothes, but supposedly on different days — this is the level of lazy we’re talking about.
And then there’s the fact that Sebastian is a terrible person, constantly putting down his father, at one point flat out stating, “I’m done with you, time to move on with my life.” About My Father certainly doesn’t provide pleasant company for what is ostensibly a comedy, though it does have the audacity to strive for tears in the home stretch, as father and son reconnect. Salvo is indeed stubborn, but aside from that aforementioned bird murder, nothing he does warrants the drama queen responses Sebastian is so prone to deliver. The movie is also weirdly fixated on New Age mysticism and the mocking of such, which again, is beyond tired in 2023. To call these “Dad jokes” is an insult to fathers everywhere, who are worthy of more than an overly spray-tanned comedian who somehow convinced a major Hollywood studio to film his therapy sessions. It would at least help if Maniscalco possessed something in the way of screen presence or charisma, but his performance is stiff and mannered, like a robot trying to impersonate a human prone to wild emotional vacillations. De Niro, the consummate professional, rarely phones anything in, and he indeed leans in to this underwhelming material, but he also looks severely pained for the majority of the film’s mercifully short runtime — totally understandable. If Maniscalco is truly under the impression that the final product he delivered here is a loving tribute to his father, then he’s in serious need of an influx of self-awareness, and perhaps a swift kick to the head by Pops himself. Unless the man is an escaped war criminal, he certainly didn’t deserve About My Father. No one does.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 21.