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About My Father Review

by Daniel Reynolds
2.0 out of 5.0 stars

As a fan of his stand-up comedy, I’m not surprised to see Sebastian Maniscalco try for leading man roles via a story about his father. Along with his Italian heritage, Maniscalco’s dad has figured into many bits over the years, and while it’s a well-mined vein now, there’s a specificity to those old jokes that works. As directed by Laura Terruso, however, what is surprising about About My Father is just how impersonal—and unfunny—it is.

With an opening that speaks to the particulars of Maniscalco’s background, About My Father begins in Chicago with our leading man in love with his dream woman: a cool girl artist named Ellie (Leslie Bibb) who also happens to come from a wealthy WASP family with a summer home in Virginia. Through some basic plot machinations served up by co-writer Austin Earl, Maniscalco sends his alter ego down there for the July 4th weekend with a marriage proposal in mind—and with his father Salvo (Robert De Niro), a working-class hair stylist, in tow. We’ve seen this movie before: with Maniscalco as the straight man, the film sets about mining the ethnic and class differences between the two families for laughs. In this, Terruso benefits from the casting of David Rasche and Kim Cattrall as Ellie’s parents, even if neither is given enough to do. Instead, the film relies on De Niro’s usual late-period mugging and some lazy tropes lifted from other films. (Ellie’s brothers, for example, could have slid right into Wedding Crashers and not missed a beat.)

While the heart of About My Father is ostensibly in the right place, the film can’t decide to which tastes it should cater. There’s a broadness to its main punchlines (all of which are seen in the trailer) that try for wacky, yet the film is decidedly low energy, finding its best moments in smaller asides. As a result, what should have been Mangia Cake: The Movie ends up being the worst kind of tasteless—that is, without flavour.

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