Movie Review: A Comic invites a Legend to Play his Dad — “About My Father”

Sebastian Maniscalo is a bouncy, animated stand-up comic who uses his Italian-American background in his act. So when he whipped up a screenplay with some of that material as a star vehicle, who’s he get to play the title character in “About My Father?”

Oscar-winner Robert DeNiro is who, The Greatest Screen Actor of his Generation — untouchable in dramatic roles, and pretty damned funny in comical ones.

So Maniscalo, who was in “Green Book” and “Tag” and “The Irishman,” whose biggest screen role before this might have been his turn as the “smart” younger brother in the Ray Romano dramedy “Somewhere in Queens,” is sharing scene after scene — riffing and parenting and pleading and swapping complaints and insults — with The Greatest Screen Actor of His Generation.

And whatever else you or I think about this “Family, amIright?” culture-clashing comedy, know this. The kid holds his own. Robert Freakin’ DeNiro is staring back at him and they’re male-bonding and all of that, and Maniscalo gives as good as he’s gets.

The film is a meet-the-prospective in-laws/”Meet the Fockers” variation. A Chicago boutique hotel manager (Maniscalo) travels to the posh part of coastal Virginia to be with the woman he hopes to marry (Leslie Bibb, down to play), her Senator Mom (Kim Cattrall, fierce), born-to-money hotelier Dad (David Rasche) and their amped-up and entitled “bro” son (Anders Holm) and his flaky New Age flake sibling (Brett Dier).

The catch? Sebastian Maniscalo — yes, he uses his real name — can’t leave his widowed, cheap, Sicilian-immigrant hairdresser Dad (DeNiro) alone on the Fourth, “his favorite holiday…because you don’t have to buy presents.” Besides, the old man won’t pass on his grandmother’s ring to Sebastian to give to his intended Ellie until he’s “checked ‘them’ out.”

The rich and privileged, in their golf course-side McMansion, where peacocks walk the grounds, will host “a working guy” who has a permanent, generational case of “How much a place like this/a table like this/a yacht like this cost?”

So yeah, cultures will clash and put-downs will be delivered, almost entirely from son to father — about his tact, his clothes and his shoes.

“You look like the guy who killed John Wick’s dog!”

The script has some funny lines, one outrageous sight gag and a few less outrageous ones, and director Laura Terruso (“Good Girls Get High” and “Work It”) keeps the camera tight for the zingers and wide for the slapstick.

But the best scenes — all of them — are the father-son dynamic, arguing at home, in Dad’s murderously-maintained garden (he poisons any wildlife that comes for his veg), in Dad’s seriously Sicilian beauty salon, in the attic dormer where they room together in Virginia.

My favorite running gag is the father-passed-down-to-son affection for colognes, a bit of shtick borrowed from Maniscalco’s physically-demonstrative stage act. Each man has his “signature scent.” Each sprays his into the air, and each peacocks his way through the mist to achieve the perfect application. It’s freaking hilarious.

The rest of the movie? Frankly, that’s a bit on the “meh” side. Jokes and situations we’ve seen in lots of other comedies, and none them helped by the hack screenwriter’s laziest or in this cast most egocentric crutch — voice-over narration.

We don’t need to hear “I WORSHIPPED my father” or the other pages and pages of lines narrated. Just SHOW us, and if it’s funny enough, it’ll work. Maniscalco’s incessant narrating sounds like a desperate stand-up comic hitting material too hard to let it land.

The supporting cast has its moments, but this movie sinks or swims with this father-son dynamic. And their banter, not the constant “ba-da-BING” of would-be punchlines voiced-over by Maniscalco, is what’s funny.

The kid indeed does hold his own in his many scenes with the master. If only he’d known enough to shut his yap off camera…

Rating: PG-13 for suggestive material, (profanity) and partial nudity

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Sebastian Maniscalco, Leslie Bibb, Kim Cattrall, Brett Dier, Anders Holm and David Rasche

Credits: Directed by Laura Terruso, scripted by Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco. A Lionsgate release.

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About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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