About My Father puts stand-up comic Sebastian Maniscalco in the leading role of a major feature film. The road from stand-up comedian to movie star is paved with successes and failures alike. Robin Williams (good!) to Dane Cook (bad!), there are countless examples on both sides. The bottom line is being a successful comic has no bearing on success in acting. Some have it, others don’t. Sebastian Maniscalco is trying to find out which side of the coin he’ll land on. He is one of the biggest comics working today. You don’t sell out stadiums or headline arenas if you don’t have some serious juice.
And over the years, Maniscalco has also gotten acting chances here and there. But his new movie, About My Father – loosely based on his own life – marks the first time he’s front and center. Not only starring in the movie, he also co-wrote the story. Does the stand-up success translate to the big screen?
Sebastian (Maniscalco) is planning to propose to his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb). But there’s one last, big obstacle standing in his way: his old-school Italian immigrant father, Salvo (Robert De Niro). Sebastian needs his grandma’s ring to propose with, which Salvo has. And he’s not going to hand it over so easily. Salvo loves Ellie, but he’s not so sure about the rest of her family.
Her father Bill Collins (David Rasche) is a hotel magnate and her mother Tigger (Kim Cattrall) is a Maryland politician. They are exceedingly wealthy and come from a different world than the Maniscalcos. Salvo worries Sebastian doesn’t know what he would be getting himself into. When the Collins invite Sebastian to join them for their annual Fourth of July weekend, Ellie suggests Salvo come too. Salvo joins, wanting to get a first-hand look at his son’s potential future in-laws. As you can guess, not everything goes according to plan.
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With one egregious exception (we’ll get to it), there’s nothing about About My Father that you can say is awful. But there’s also nothing you can say is great, nothing that’s unique or sticks out. The jokes come at you fast, with a few hits but a lot more misses. The acting is fine (to no one’s surprise, De Niro stands head and shoulders above everyone else), but the script doesn’t give anyone all that much to work with.
Everything about the story is so surface level and obvious. There are genuinely no surprises. I was truly shocked at how many scenes were completely telegraphed earlier in the movie. There are several instances where it feels like the movie stops and says, “Hey, remember this, it’s going to come back later.” Sadly, even the best gag of the whole movie can’t escape this fate.
About My Father had the chance to be a pretty solid comedy. You have a classic “odd couple” setup, acting legend Robert De Niro, and the hilarious Anders Holm throwing fastballs the entire time. As Ellie’s obnoxious older brother Lucky, Holmes was the biggest highlight outside of De Niro. He was used perfectly. Add in Bibb and seasoned actors Cattrall and Rasche and the talent and opportunity was there to make something of this.
But the script takes no risks. It doesn’t ever go for anything. It zigs when you expect it to zig, and zags when you expect it to zag. It plays it safe at every opportunity. And now we get to the absolute worst part of the whole thing: the baffling use of voiceover and narration.
As a general rule, I am not a fan of narration. With rare exceptions, the best result is usually a neutral feeling. And at worst, it comes off as a lazy storytelling crutch, used when a movie doesn’t trust the writing or its actors to convey the themes and plot. Guess where About My Father falls.
Throughout the movie, Sebastian will narrate what’s happening. But he’s only recapping what we just saw, or what we’re literally watching happen. It adds no additional context or depth to anything. And we’re not dealing with complex themes here to begin with. Anyone who is going to see this movie will have absolutely no issue following along with what it’s trying to say at any given time. It honestly comes off as patronizing.
About My Father isn’t unfunny. But, as Ralph Wiggum would say, it’s not “haha funny.” Robert De Niro does his best to keep this thing afloat, and Anders Holm is there to provide the only couple genuinely funny moments outside of De Niro. But with an obvious and risk-averse script, there’s only so much they can do. The family themes at play are universal, and could prove engaging for some, but it doesn’t go deep or have anything particularly interesting to say. If all you’re looking for is a (mostly) family-friendly comedy with a handful of laughs along the way, About My Father might do the bare minimum to satisfy.
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