Sebastian Maniscalco as Sebastian, left, and Robert De Niro as Salvo in a scene from “About My Father.” (Dan Anderson/Lionsgate via AP)
“About My Father”
Rated PG-13. At the AMC Boston Common, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters..
Although its title evokes Pedro Almodovar’s 1999 Oscar-winner “All About My Mother,” Robert De Niro’s comedy vehicle “About My Father” is more like a variation on a theme of the 2000 De Niro-starring hit “Meet the Parents.” Featuring De Niro as Chicago hairdresser Salvo Maniscalco, a part played by Tony Danza in the 2016 Maniscalco effort “Sebastian Says,” “About My Father” starts out as a story heavily narrated by son-of-immigrants Sebastian Maniscalco (himself). Sebastian’s mother and father came from Italy to America, we learn, where they raised their son. The mother has recently died and Sebastian and his father are all that is left of the family. Afraid that her country club-approved, hotel chain-owning family disapproves of his modest Italian immigrant background, Sebastian both fears the prospect and longs to meet his girlfriend Ellie Collins’ parents.
Ellie (Leslie Bibb) is a beautiful, fair-haired artist whose rather monotonous paintings get sold out to a mysterious benefactor at every show. Sebastian is a successful hotel manager for a rival chain. Sebastian is finally invited to the lavish Fourth of July family outing by the Collins. But because he cannot leave his father alone on the holiday, he and Ellie decide to take Salvo with them also to meet the parents, so to speak.
The meeting gets off to a bad start when Ellie’s insanely entitled older brother Lucky (a very funny Anders Holm) shows up to pilot a helicopter to spirit them to a Maryland country club. Ellie’s parents – hotel dynasty scion Bill Collins (the always welcome David Rasche) and “scary” Senator “Tigger” Collins (Kim Cattrall) – are friendly and gracious at the start. Salvo, who has brought his grandmother’s engagement ring for Sebastian to place on Ellie’s finger when (and if) he finally proposes, thinks that he is there to approve of Ellie and her parents, instead of the other way around.
Maniscalco, who has been the star of several comedy specials and who played Crazy Joe Gallo in “The Irishman,” is both the film’s strong suit and its weakness. In addition to starring in the film, he co-wrote the screenplay with Austen Earl, who also wrote “Sebastian Says.” Maniscalco, who has a high-pitched voice, receding hairline and “Jersey Shore” accent, looks older than 42, the stated age of the film’s Sebastian. The real Maniscalco can, however, deliver a zinger with superb timing.
Deft comic actor De Niro has been here before and not just in “Meet the Parents” and its many offspring. He remains the comic master of the character who is just about to blow his stack and likes doing it. This is the funny side of madman Travis Bickle, the clown for whom anger is an aphrodisiac. As the Collins’ “sound bowl”-playing, Kombucha-drinking younger son Doug, Brett Dier (“Jane the Virgin”) is especially good when not-so-ditsy Doug tells his parents that their beloved country club, where only Salvo wants to know what things cost, “was built by slaves.”
When Bill tells Salvo that a piece of art hanging on his wall was by Grandma Moses, Salvo apologizes for belittling his “grandma’s” painting. Salvo and Sebastian have a “cologne bit” that is not really very amusing. De Niro and Maniscalco are relaxed in each other’s company, but the chemistry is lacking. Maniscalco and Bibb are a funny, appealing couple. She remains the secret ingredient in many films. In the film’s funniest sequence, Sebastian goes “jet booting” beside the Collins’ yacht and shows off more than his flying skills in front of Bill and Tigger. “About My Father” actually raises the issue of the “peasant mentality” that vexes some Italian-Americans. It’s a great subject for some other film.
(“About My Father” contains brief partial nudity, profanity and sexually suggestive material)