Rob Reviews "About My Father"
I love that we are back in the place where standup comedians are getting love from Hollywood. At its core, standup comedy is storytelling, and if there was a gold mine that isn’t looked into enough for films that is it. There was a big boom of this kind of thing in the early to mid ‘90s, but it seems to be back with some of the films from Amy Schumer, and competing films release this week with Burt Kreischer’s The Machine and Sebastian Maniscalco’s latest in About My Father.
Maniscalco plays an alternate version of himself, living in Chicago and working as a hotel manager. He is trying to find a way to propose to artist Ellie (Leslie Bibb), and when they are both invited to her parent’s summer home over the Fourth of July, he decides this is the right time to propose. In order for him to do that, he asks his father, Salvo (Robert DeNiro), for his grandmother’s ring, but the only way he will get it is to meet her parents to see if they are up to the family’s standards. And the clash of the classes ensues.
This film started out a bit rocky for me as Maniscalco sets up the story in a way that felt like he was making a conscious effort to not make it sound like a standup routine where he may have been better served by doing it AS a “live” recording of his standup, using that as his side gig to the hotel manager thing. (That part of his story actually plays into the bigger plot.) Once the setup is done, this is a film that is actually better than I was expecting. Given that DeNiro seems to be at a point where he takes projects because he wants to versus ones where he feels like he has to keep adding to his legacy actually pays off here as it truly feels like he was having fun doing this film. There is enough chemistry to make Salvo’s relationship with Sebastian work while not trying to make the story thrive on it alone. This is truly Sebastian’s story, and Maniscalco crafts it well. Whether it is being the best version of himself to Ellie while doing his best to impress her family (David Rasche, Kim Cattrall, Anders Holm, and Brett Dier) and keep his dad from being “full dad,” his journey is one that I enjoyed being on and was able to relax and let this story unfold while laughing out loud multiple times.
There are of course those that will compare this film a bit too much to another DeNiro character in Jack Byrnes in the Fockers films, which is actually OK by me. First, it’s been long enough since those films that revisiting that type of character doesn’t seem old hat (don’t count the films where he has been someone’s comedic grandpa… this feels different), and this version of that character is able to let his guard down a bit more than Jack did in a way that is totally endearing and fun to watch.
I really wish this film had a different release date so it didn’t have as much competition as this one will have but given that it takes place over another holiday after this one, that would be a VERY crowded date for it as well. My hope is that we get more films like this from material that a great group of standup comics have been putting out as of late. As a lifelong student of both forms of art About My Father represents, it’s long overdue.