About My Father Makes Meeting the Parents a Little Easier

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco adapts his standup for the big screen in a film that has lighter laughs, more depth than expected

Like many of my generation, I have an overactive sense of sympathetic embarrassment, which can make Meet The Parents­-style discomfort comedies of miscommunication serious endurance trials. Even when they’re funny, the level of laughing a someone’s misfortune can make for discomfort enough to cancel out the punchlines.

The good news about About My Father is that it is far easier to take entry in the genre than Robert De Niro’s first foray. Think less the Parents trilogy and something more like The Family Stone. Embarrassment abounds, yes, but there’s an equal distribution of it. No one is made the Atlas of Awkwardness, and that’s a relief.

A Clash of Sensibilities

Sebastian Maniscalco (Sebastian Maniscalco) is an independent hotel owner who grew up a first-generation American with his Italian father, Salvo (De Niro). Despite family differences, he and artist Ellie Collins (Leslie Bibb) have fallen in love. Sebastian, ready to propose, requests the family ring from Salvo only for dear old Dad to insist that he evaluate Ellie and her family for ring-worthiness.

In order to satisfy Salvo, the duo head to meet Bill (David Rasche) and Tigger (Kim Cattrall) for a long Fourth of July weekend celebration. Inevitably the old money and quite comfortable with it, Collinses clash with the done well for himself but will never spend a dime frivolously Salvo.

Meet Sebastian

Despite being directed by Laura Terruso, Maniscalco is the driving creative force behind this film, scripting the action alongside screenwriter Austen Earl. Those familiar with his standup routines will likely clock that the film’s tone, if not entire jokes, draws heavily from his previous work. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he plays a character called Sebastian Maniscalco. Ted Danza must be green with envy.

Still, it must be said that Maniscalco isn’t just extending his brand here. After small roles in other films, including a memorable turn opposite De Niro in The Irishman, Maniscalco is not without acting chops. Moreover, he’s a solid on-screen presence, giving the film a central fulcrum even when the script forces him to react more than act. I wouldn’t expect him to be a reliable Hollywood leading man after this, but it seems likely that he can continue to get work delivering charismatic supporting turns.

Count on Your Family

Of course, Maniscalco doesn’t need to make this movie on his own. He, and the casting directors, have cannily built a strong team around him. De Niro shows up, always a pleasant surprise, and reminds audiences that he can do comedy when engaged with the material. Cattrall is similarly game, finally getting a post-Sex and the City role that doesn’t demand she just play another shade of that character.

Most importantly, the film never strands Bibb. So many of these films either reduce the woman to a barely present observer (see again: Meet the Parents) or, worse, a blithely naïve figure who can’t see how badly her partner is trying to impress her and her family and instead assumes the worst. Here, though, Bibb is given the space to play well off of Maniscalco. It lets her be funny and helps the audience see why they would want to be together.

Ah, But Is It Funny?

Therein lies the rub. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen about 40% of the jokes and likely can predict about 30% of the ones you haven’t. If you know Maniscalco’s routine at all, push those numbers up another 10%. So for those looking for a surprising laugh-out-loud experience, About My Father likely won’t scratch the itch.

What it does do is explore some surprisingly more interesting terrain regarding the family secrets kept for the greater good and those kept out of habit for too long. Additionally, it wrestles with how far one should go, or ask another to go, in trying to fit in. In other words, is it worth winning the approval of others if you erase yourself and your heritage in the process?

Granted, this is still a sub-90-minute comedy, so we aren’t talking Drury-level of interfamilial dynamics exploration here. But it’s interesting to encounter a movie in this subgenre with more on its mind than the next pratfall or miscommunication. That willingness to go a bit deeper helps About My Father overcome a slack late second act that might otherwise ruin other movies like it.

About My Father makes excuses for dear old Dad starting May 26 in theatres.

Rating: 6/10 SPECS.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.