About My Father is, once again, Robert De Niro starring in some goofy shit.
Ever since the turn of the century, the famously Method actor has spent his time starring in comfortable comedies. Oh sure, the man appears in serious fare here and there (like his old pal Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Cannes-slayer Killers of the Flower Moon). But ever since he scored laughs as Ben Stiller’s disapproving father-in-law in the Meet the Parents/Fockers trilogy, the Oscar winner continuously pops up in some silly-ass product — and gets a nice paycheck in the process. (True De Niro heads know this didn’t even begin with Parents. Remember when he sent up his gangster image playing a neurotic mafioso in Harold Ramis’s Analyze This?)
For Father, De Niro delves back into Parents-esque territory. He’s Salvo, the workaholic hairstylist father of protagonist Sebastian Maniscalco, played by — obviously — comedian Sebastian Maniscalco. I guess the beloved stand-up must’ve convinced (or guilt-tripped) De Niro to co-star in this flick after the Raging Bull star offed his ass in The Irishman.
Maniscalco plays a Chicago hotelier who’s head-over-heels in love with Ellie (Leslie Bibb), a bubbly WASP who makes a living painting art that matter-of-factly looks like vaginas. When Ellie’s upper-crust parents (Kim Cattrall and Succession’s David Rasche) invite the couple to their country-club compound on 4th of July Weekend, Sebastian considers this the perfect time to propose with his grandmother’s engagement ring. Unfortunately, he has to get the ring from his old man, who also wants to come along and see just how fancy-schmancy these people are.
As expected, hijinks ensue on both sides. Yes, Ellie’s fam (which also includes Workaholics alum Anders Holm as her dickish brother and Brett Dier as her hippy-dippy bro) are on the overprivileged side. But Sebastian has to worry about his pops being a cranky agent of chaos, like when he serves the family an Italian meal that requires him to off one of the peacocks that roam around the property.
Father is mostly just an 89-minute dumping ground for jokes Maniscalco usually dispenses in his stand-up. It plays like an elongated version of the Sebastian Says sitcom pilot — where Tony Danza played Sebastian’s dad — Maniscalco and co-writer Austen Earl tried to get off the ground at NBC in 2016. (A chopped-up version can be found on YouTube here.)
Director Laura Terruso (who co-wrote the Sally Field vehicle Hello, My Name is Doris) mostly keeps things flowing in a no-frills, regimented manner, even if continuity is off during a few shots. She does effectively capture De Niro and Maniscalco’s surprising chemistry as father and son, particularly in late-night scenes where the pair talk smack and air grievances after a long day of downplaying their Italian-ness. The family they’re trying to impress is mostly there as ridiculous foils: Bibb is insanely chipper, Holm is predictably douchey, Dyer is all new-agey and doltish, and Rasche and Cattrall are mostly in yes-and mode as the absurdly supportive parents.
Much like Maniscalco’s inclusive stand-up, Father is out to show how people aren’t that different from one another — so why change who the hell you are? Whether you come from upper-class, white-bread parents or a Sicilian dad who knows how to kill garden critters with tainted bologna, we all have irritating but well-meaning folks that are always looking out for ya. With Maniscalco serving up the jokes and De Niro staying dignified even when he’s doing the most, About My Father is certainly a middlebrow yet inoffensive way to spend time with the fam at the multiplex.
“About My Father” is in theaters Friday.