Sebastian Maniscalco seems to have burst on the scene in the last few years, but that’s far from the truth. Starting in stand-up back in 1998 and releasing his first special (Sebastian Live) in 2009 the guy is far from an overnight sensation. That seems to be the way of it for stand-up comedians though, someone will be working regularly for years before having that one spark that sends them to the A-list. Maniscalco seems to be following the Hollywood playbook for successful comedians, do a few wildly popular stand-up specials and transition into movies (or the old classic, a sitcom). If you’ve watched any of his material, and if you haven’t I highly suggest you do so immediately, you’ll know that a big part of his schtick is talking about his very Italian family life growing up. It should come as know surprise that About My Father, his first starring role which he also wrote, is a story about dealing with one’s family…in this case his father.
Sebastian is planning a weekend with his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb) and her family at their estate in Virginia over 4th of July weekend a time that he usually spends with his family. Ellie convinces Sebastian to invite his recently widowed father Salvo (Robert De Niro) to tag along, something Sebastian knows will end in his total embarrassment. He relents and Salvo joins them as they go to visit Elliie’s well meaning but completely eccentric family. I think I can cut the synopsis there, anyone that’s seen more then 2 movies knows where this plot is going. That’s right, your standard fish out of water with a side of meeting the parents formula.
Like I’ve said 100 times, though that sounds like a condemnation it’s not, there is NOTHING wrong with making a formulaic movie as long as you do it right. Spoiler alert, they did it right. It all comes down to the heart of the film, it’s a Father/Son story that feels real enough to be relatable with plenty of funny packed in to keep you laughing. Most importantly Maniscalco and De Niro have excellent chemistry. I know Bobby D doesn’t have the best track record as of late, especially when it comes to comedy, but in the right role with the right people around him he really hits his marks.
I think one of my favorite things about this flick is how it deviates from that formula we all know so well. On paper Ellie’s family is set to be the worst, think a weekend a Mar-A-Lago. Her mom (Kim Cattrall) is a politician, her dad a hotelier, and she has two brothers one, the typical popped collar frat bro and the other the (also typical) weirdo outcast that all rich families seem to have. Are they different? Yeah, no doubt and the movie does not try to hide that, but different isn’t bad and the maliciousness you expect never presents itself. They are, like Sebastian and his dad, a family of people trying to understand each other. There’s no scene where they upturn their noses at Salvo because he’s a regular working man or pull Ellie to the side to tell her how she’s going to embarrass the “family name” and while they are woefully out of touch most of the time it is obvious they mean well.
Honestly, I thought I would be disappointed seeing Maniscalco toned down for the big screen. He is so hysterically physical in his standup that I wasn’t sure how much of his appeal would be lost. The truth is, none of it was, it was a different kind of funny with the result being a more believable, more likeable, protagonist. Sure, About My Father isn’t going to win awards or fundamentally change cinema as we know it, but it succeeds in doing what every good movie should strive for, making you feel something.
About My Father is in theaters now.