Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, the co-writer and star of “About My Father,” loves it so much that he built a film around it. Directed by Laura Terruso, “About My Father” wants to be another “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and there are so few movies like that in theaters that it might become a success despite reviews like this one.
Narrated within an inch of its life, and willing the audience to believe that an Italian-American marrying into a WASP family would represent a culturally fraught scenario with high failure potential in 2023, the movie runs the gamut from mediocre to painless with occasional moments of charm. But there’s no denying that it pushes some of the same buttons that helped turn the “Fockers” films, starring De Niro as another emotionally constipated patriarch, into gigantic box-office hits. From the “I can’t believe that person just said that” reaction shots to the obligatory moments of over-the-top slapstick, “About My Father” ticks all the boxes. The result falls somewhere between the “Greek Wedding” movies and De Niro’s “Dirty Grandpa,” though it always stops short of doing anything genuinely provocative or disturbing.
Maniscalco’s character is an attractive middle-aged man named Sebastian whose father, Salvo (De Niro), a widowed hairdresser, holds his late wife’s wedding ring in reserve until he can check out whatever family his boy decides to marry into. The moment arrives when he falls in love with Ellie (Leslie Bibb), who, like Sebastian, is in the hotel business and has sort of a modified Manic Pixie Dream Girl personality. Her family are immigrants, too, but they came over on the Mayflower, and that’s a long, long time ago. Ellie’s mother, Tigger (Kim Cattrall), a senator, and father, Bill (David Rasche), a moneybags country-club owner invite Sebastian to attend the family’s annual Independence Day get-together at their estate. When Sebastian asks his dad for the ring, pop pressures his son into letting him tag along because he needs to vet the new in-laws and because there wouldn’t be a movie if he didn’t.
You might find it a bit hard to believe that a guy who was supposedly a sought-after hairdresser in the 1980s would be unnerved by setting foot in a rich person’s home, much less dining at a country club where the richest person reflexively picks up the check, and the money exchange is handled with a signature rather than with cash. Salvo also seems pretty uptight and reactionary, even though the real-life version of a guy with his background would have done lines off the men’s room sinks at Maxwell’s Plum during the Reagan administration, probably with Frankie Goes to Hollywood blasting through the speakers. There’s a lot of this sort of stuff in the movie: earthy working guys expressing alarm and dismay at the lifestyles of the rich and famous and commiserating with each other about the weirdness of, say, Ellie’s younger brother Doug (Brett Dier) with his New Age stoner demeanor and obsession with learning to play sound bowls, or her old brother Lucky (Anders Collins), a strapping, smiling, fratty doofus who exudes the natural authority of a rich man’s son who knows he’ll eventually inherit everything even though he’s mentally still 18.