If Sebastian Maniscalco really is the most popular comic in the country at the moment, you’d never know why from his film debut in About My Father. So unfunny it’s embarrassing, this is an over-the-top, under-achieving generational comedy that feels like it was written in the mid- to late-1960s and has been moldering in a drawer ever since.
At 79 the oldest person in the cast, Robert de Niro has the most energy of anyone in the cast and employs all the tricks he could think of to help the cause. Still, this mostly plays like a ragged hand-me-down being performed at top volume, as if the dialogue was going to be competing with a laugh track.
One might plausibly presume that this lightweight vehicle was conceived and designed by Maniscalco using elements of his own upbringing so as to surround himself with reliable talent to ease his way into films and possibly expand his career possibilities. Unfortunately, no one stands much of a chance or comes off very well here, as the actors seem like they’ve been asked to perform at full volume and then kick it up one notch further just to make sure you get it.
Austen Earl, a busy writer whose longest television gig was on Happy Together a few years ago, along with co-writer Maniscalco and director Laura Terruso, have tried not to miss any opportunities for PG-13-level crude humor, though this is a rare occasion when De Niro is actually restrained from unleashing the full force of his normally colorful vocabulary.
Here, the protean actor plays an amiable, good-tempered New York hairdresser who needs to have his arm twisted buy his son Sebastian to make the trip to a posh community outside of Washington, D.C., to tend to the bride, Ellie (Leslie Bibb). But almost from the moment they land and are welcomed by Ellie’s family and friends, including the magnanimous, self-satisfied man of the mansion Bill Collins (David Rasche), everything feels off — for comfortable Waspy multimillionaires, the hosts exhibit no savoir faire and don’t have much of a clue as to how to speak with the perfectly nice guy their daughter has brought home for inspection. Hell, 56 years ago Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner displayed more savoir faire regarding the serio-comic dramatic potential of a “different” sort of husband the parents might have imagined for their daughter than the general silliness coursing through this misbegotten little look at ethnic and class distinctions.
While the women buzz about seeming addled and preoccupied, the guys prattle on about golf, property, money or anything else that may well be of interest to them but are of little concern to onlookers. Two or three times the dialogue threatens to get serious about things that matter, but old Bill puts the kibosh on that in short order. An imaginative writer might have made a little something out of this rich man’s aversion to serious or even just engaging talk about money and how he made it to the top. Instead, it feels as though anything that would have provided color or a real pulse to the proceedings has been banished.
There are less-than-notable set pieces and one goofy stunt in which a hapless gent gets shot high up out of the water by a powerful rush, only to lose his bathing suite in the process. The young adults are well-scrubbed bores, so in the end it falls to De Niro, an unlikely cast member for this country-clubbish time-waster, to give it a bit of color and oomph, especially toward the end of the film. His good-natured wallowing in his own Italianism proves refreshing after so much bland Waspiness.
Title: About My Father
Director: Laura Terruso
Screenwriters: Austen Earl, Sebastian Maniscalco
Cast: Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, David Rasche, Kim Cattrall, Anders Holm
Running Time: 1 hr 29 minutes
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