THE STORY – Encouraged by his fiancee, a man and his father spend the weekend with her wealthy and exceedingly eccentric family. The gathering soon develops into a culture clash, allowing father and son to discover the true meaning of family.
THE CAST – Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche & Kim Cattrall
THE TEAM – Laura Terruso (Director), Sebastian Maniscalco & Austen Earl (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes
“Family isn’t one important thing. Family is everything.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before– a man is on a quest to win the approval of his girlfriend’s family before he pops the question to her. Before you start rattling off titles like “Guess Who” or “Why Him?” this movie also stars Robert De Niro. No, it’s not another movie in the “Meet the Parents” series, but it does star another comedian who tries to bridge the gap between his Italian roots and a high society family. Sebastian Maniscalco plays a fictionalized version of himself in an effort to win over the approval of his girlfriend, Ellie, and her family. Only this time, the man is bringing along his father, played by the legendary Robert De Niro.
Through a chaotic Fourth of July weekend, hijinks ensue as Sebastian and Salvo step inside Ellie’s world. To Sebastian’s dismay, he takes the brunt of the embarrassment in his attempts to impress his future in-laws, like flashing the Collins while flyboarding and getting sick while riding in a helicopter. As he attempts to grow closer to the Collins family, Sebastian begins to distance himself from Salvo. With the fear that Sebastian could leave Salvo behind in Chicago, Salvo tries to adapt to the waspy world of the Collins; as he does, he leaves a dead peacock and a haircut gone wrong in his wake. Throughout the movie, Sebastian learns the key to Ellie’s heart isn’t through conforming to her family but rather embracing his father for who he is and realizing how he has shaped him into the man he is today. From nightly cologne rituals to burying a peacock together, a father and son come to appreciate having each other in their lives in surprisingly emotional moments tucked into what would be seen as a traditional comedy.
“About My Father” isn’t just about bringing two families together; it’s also about the beginnings of a new family. Sebastian Maniscalco and Leslie Bibb have great chemistry together. Bibb brings a bubbly personality to Ellie that pops off as genuine. She brings Sebastian out of his comfort zone and helps him embrace new experiences, like enjoying the perks of a quality skincare routine.
Outside of Ellie, the rest of the Collins family falls flat. Anders Holm cashes in a “by-the-numbers fraternity bro” performance as an older brother. Brett Dier’s Doug Collins resembles a mellow liberal version of the eccentric Todd Cleary, played by Keir O’Donnell, from “Wedding Crashers.” David Rasche tends to fade into the background when his character isn’t spouting off a history lesson about a piece of furniture in his extravagant home. Kim Cattrall plays Ellie’s mother, Tigger Collins, and with a name like Tigger, you’d think she would pump up the energy in the room. There is clearly an effort to make Ellie stand out from her affluent family, but there could have been more effort made to make her family more abnormal and, therefore, memorable. They all wear matching pajamas, for goodness’ sake!
Although Sebastian’s primary goal is winning over Ellie’s family to propose to his girlfriend, the primary crux of the film comes down to the relationship between Sebastian and his father, Salvo. Since the screenplay is loosely based on Maniscalco’s life and relationship with his own father, capturing the bond with his father is critical. Maniscalco and De Niro have excellent chemistry together. In fact, as light-hearted as the hijinks of meeting the potential in-laws can be, the scenes between Sebastian and Salvo are where the movie comes together, particularly when the two are riffing back and forth about the strange routines of Ellie’s family. Where Ben Stiller fought to win De Niro’s respect in the “Meet The Parents” trilogy, Sebastian Maniscalco discovers how much of who he is comes from his father. As the title would imply, the real love story on display in “About My Father” is that of a Sicilian immigrant and his son; it even comes complete with a climactic scene while stopping a plane from taking off.
Overall, “About My Father” plays with a story that has been done before; yet, by shifting the focus towards a father and son realizing their depth of love towards each other, Laura Terruso’s film manages to stand out from previous iterations. The natural chemistry between Maniscalco and De Niro makes the comedic and emotional scenes land, carrying the film when other subplots fall short. Like a good Italian meal, “About My Father” elicits the warmth of a good comfort movie without overstaying its welcome.