“ABOUT MY FATHER”
Starring Robert De Niro, Sebastian Maniscalco, Leslie Bibb, Anders Holm, David Rasche, Kim Cattrall, Brett Dier
Written by Sebastian Maniscalco and Austen Earl
Directed by Laura Terruso
Produced by Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, Andrew Miano and Judi Marmel
Cinematography by Rogier Stoffers
Edited by Scott D. Hanson
Music by Stephanie Economou
By Matt Neufeld
May 26, 2023
2023 is turning out to be quite the year for Robert De Niro. First, at the youthful age of 79, he just had a baby with his girlfriend. Next, he and his longtime friend and co-worker Martin Scorsese received some major attention at the Cannes film festival for Scorsese’s new film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about the Osage tribal murders. And now, De Niro has a lead role in a winning, pleasant, warm-hearted and funny family comedy, “About My Father,” that’s being released wide for the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
Salute! Cin cin! Congratulazioni!
De Niro is actually pretty funny in “About My Father,” comedian Sebastian Maniscalco’s loving tribute to, and slight satirization of, his gruff, edgy, very traditional and old-fashioned, but still-lovable father. De Niro plays the father, Salvo Maniscalco, with his usual entertaining mix of unique, but effective, comic riffs; subtle tough guy posturing; and seasoned, traditional, but not stereotyped or cliched, Italian family values. Through the years, in an array of funny comedies, De Niro has proven his comedic skills, and he uses these skills yet again to a high level of success in “About My Father.”
De Niro’s Salvo is a popular Chicago hairdresser who’s established himself, his business, his faithful clients and his family in a comfortable corner of the city, and all is right with Salvo and his place in that world. He also has his loving, dutiful son, Sebastian, played by Sebastian Maniscalco as a movie version of himself, nearby, and the two of them, who are the sole survivors of their immediate family, have a pretty good, normal and, in its own way, loving relationship. They’re your standard bickering, generationally-divided but still respectful father and son, and the two actors play off each other’s characters in consistently funny ways. Sebastian is usually the straight man to De Niro’s somewhat grouchy, set-in-his-ways, very old-fashioned Salvo, and to watch them interact, argue and, eventually learn about each other–providing some intelligent and insightful character development along the way–is not only a hoot, but a bit of a family matters and family dynamics revelation, too.
These perceptive and smart personality and familial revelations come to fruition between Salvo and Sebastian during an hilariously and consistently awkward, wayward and even bizarro vacation visit with Sebastian’s girlfriend’s crazy rich blue-blood, silver-spoon family at their crazy rich estate. Sebastian and his girlfriend, Ellie, who is wonderfully and charmingly played by the very cute and wholesome Leslie Bibb, are tight and get along great, but, as they soon discover, the real problems belong to their respective families and their concurrent, attendant and very real foibles, quirks, faults and, most distressingly, culture clashes.
Sebastian, a middle-aged boutique hotel manager, has plans to formally propose to Ellie, a talented artist, on the trip to her family’s estate, but Salvo has insisted that he accompany his son to get the lowdown insight on his future daughter-in-law’s family. Sebastian initially doesn’t want Salvo on the trip, but Ellie thinks it’s a good idea and insists, so the grumpy-old-man Salvo goes along to, well, meet the parents. Naturally, trouble ensues, in the form of the aforementioned very real culture clashes, and to just sit back and watch all of these eccentric and very different people try to relate to each other in some way on some level without resulting in violence, loud arguments or complete nervous breakdowns is continually funny.
The cast delivers strongly. Sebastian, who co-wrote the funny, lighthearted, sharp and insightful script with Austen Earl, is pleasant and witty, and, as noted, he acts well alongside De Niro. You always believe that he and Salvo are a very real, very Italian father and son. Longtime comic actor David Rasche is hilarious as Bill Collins, Ellie’s father and a super-rich hotel magnate, and Rasche has a goofy old time playing Bill as some type of well-off businessman who’s some type of oddball cross between Conrad Hilton, Bill Marriott and Wally Cox. The always-reliable Kim Cattrall plays Bill’s strong-willed but somewhat stressed-out wife, Tigger. And Anders Holm and Brett Dier have a field day as Bill and Tigger’s goofball, clueless sons. They’re all appropriately fun and funny.
Writers Sebastian and Earl and director Laura Terruso keep things appropriately breezy, lighthearted and easygoing, presenting a movie that doesn’t stretch, press or pull things in too far of an edgy direction, and that’s a good thing. Their restraint keeps “About…” grounded, agreeable, admirable and pleasantly funny.
They also manage, through their intelligent writing and directing, to somehow keep things fresh and humorous—even though we’ve all seen this same culture-class, fish-out-of-water story and it’s attendant story and plot elements a thousand times before. And, yes, we saw these same elements in the “Meet the Parents” series, which also started De Niro.
However, as noted, somehow it all remains funny and enjoyable in “About My Father,” even though some of the plot points are cliched and familiar.
One stand-out, somewhat original aspect of the movie is that amid the various family squabblings, disagreements, differences, misunderstandings, rifts, spats and myriad cultural, economic, demographic, geographic and nationalistic differences, through it all, Sebastian and Salvo do discover, after all of their years together, some new things about themselves, about their relationship and about some of the deeper, more moving and important aspects of being related, being family and being a father and a son.
So there’s an actual, deeper meaning amid the laughs, and that added depth grounds the movie in a bit of reality that everyone can relate to. We all have mothers and fathers and we all have new things to learn about each other, and ourselves, throughout life. And it’s good to be reminded of these things in movies that care to take the time to explore in an adult manner just what it is and what it means to be human.
2023 has been a good year so far for more grounded, down-to-earth movies about family, friends, life and love, like “About My Father.” Movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “A Man Called Otto,” “80 For Brady,” “Spinning Gold” and “Champions” succeed because amid the laughs, the action, the drama and the spectacle, these smart and insightful movies take the time to simply remember what’s most important in life–and that’s family, friends, love and life itself.
Salute, salute, salute!