‘About My Father’ Review: Robert De Niro Is an Italian American Hero in Zippy Comedy

Sebastian Maniscalco gives De Niro a vehicle worthy of his comedic talents in the vein of "Meet the Parents" and "Analyze This."
ABOUT MY FATHER Sebastian Maniscalco Robert De Niro 2023
"About My Father"
©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

There’s no doubt that Robert De Niro is funny, but his recent taste in comedies have certainly called his sense of humor into question. It’s been over 20 years since “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” launched the robust comedy leg of the Oscar winner’s career, but not every subsequent project has been as successful. Following the twin head scratchers of “Dirty Grandpa” and “The War with Grandpa” (unrelated; though equally ignored), the godfather of Hollywood has finally found his comedy groove again.

And wouldn’t you know, all it took was a good, old-fashioned Italian American family farce — fittingly titled “About My Father.” Though there’s a wide swath of the public for whom De Niro can do no wrong, even giants can fall. Luckily, Sebastian Maniscalco knows the importance of family.

The marquee comedian appeared opposite De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” sealing his fate as the next generation of Italian American talent. Taking up the mantle with requisite finesse, Maniscalco stars in a zippy comedy (which he wrote with Austen Earl) about a guy introducing his traditional Italian father to his wealthy potential in-laws. In a refreshing pivot from his typical tough guy bravado, De Niro’s Salvo is a humble yet charismatic hairdresser who loves his son, even if he has a hard time showing affection. Playing a fictionalized version of himself, Maniscalco’s Sebastian provides an antsy counterbalance as the striver anxious to hide his working class roots.

The two men seem to share genuine affection and camaraderie, which makes it easy to root for the central relationship. If some of the culture clash jokes trade on stereotypes, it’s such a relief to laugh in a theater that it’s hard to care. Hollywood favors formulas for a reason: They work. And lately, Hollywood seem to have forgotten that audiences like to laugh.

The premise of “All About My Father” is fairly straightforward: Sebastian wants to propose to the love of his life, the mercifully age-appropriate Ellie (Leslie Bibb), with his grandmother’s wedding ring. But his opinionated Italian father Salvo wants to meet her family before he’ll hand over the heirloom. Begrudgingly, Sebastian invites Salvo to Ellie’s family home in the pristinely named White Oaks Country Club for Fourth of July weekend. Even though, as Salvo says: “He’s worried his immigrant father’s gonna make him look like some kind of goombah.”

ABOUT MY FATHER, from left: Kim Cattrall, Leslie Bibb, David Rasche, 2023. ph: Dan Anderson / © Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection
“About My Father”©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

When they pull up to the oh-so-stately estate, they are greeted by Ellie’s parents, Tigger (Kim Cattrall) and Bill (David Rasche), who smother her with hugs and kisses. They’ve already met her douche-bro brother Lucky (Anders Holm) on the helicopter ride over, the spiritual opposite of her sensitive brother Doug (Brett Dier), who heralds them with his sound bowls and plays recorder for the pet peacocks. While Doug’s kombucha obsession and the family’s matching monogrammed pajama sets are a little much, Cattrall and Rasche play off each other wonderfully to inhabit the old-moneyed coddlers. This particular version of the blue-blooded American family, while obviously farcical, at least feels somewhat fresh with their overly affectionate positive vibes parenting style.

As Salvo feels ever more out of place amongst the oblivious elites, Sebastian is worried his father will notice how much he longs to join them. A friendly tennis game turns nearly lethal when Sebastian strips his “Sopranos”-style tracksuit for crisp tennis whites, before unleashing an overhead towards Lucky that nearly threatens the family line. Cattrall offers a cruel reminder of exactly what’s missing from “And Just Like That” with her fretful delivery of: “Oh no! Give us a small cup of ice water for his testes!”

Her character gets decidedly more screen time than Rasche’s, tipping the balance ever so slightly away from the classically masculine father/son dynamic. Director Laura Terruso, who co-wrote the Sally Field dark comedy “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” uses her sharp comedic timing to smooth what could easily have become unwieldy group scenes. With the comic beats tightly edited, Terruso keeps the ensemble dynamics afloat during a dinner scene gone awry and an ill-advised Flyboard ride that leaves Sebastian with his pants down.

Aided by some genuine zingers in Maniscalco and Earl’s script, De Niro delivers one of his best comedic performances in years. When asked if he’s enjoying his private chopper ride, he replies: “Yeah, it’s nice. Reminds me of ‘Nam.” Sebastian gets some prime jabs in, too, like when he ribs Salvo’s outfit by saying: “You look like the guy who killed John Wick’s dog.” And an adorable bit of choreography takes the edge off of their evening arguments when they each spritz their “night cologne” before bed.

So maybe we’re a little short on patience for the plight of the Italian American working man, but “About My Father” wisely doesn’t ask viewers to sympathize too much with any of its characters. It pulls no punches when it comes to skewering the out of touch elite, but it also doesn’t demand pity for anyone else or lament the decline of American masculinity. “About My Father” may not have much to say, and that’s just fine. Secure in his standing as a marquis comedian, Maniscalco makes movies like a guy with nothing to prove, and his confidence buoys and brightens “About My Father.” Unlike many male writers his age, he is mercifully free of any agenda — besides reminding the world that De Niro is hilarious.

Grade: B

Lionsgate will release “About My Father” in theaters on Friday, May 26.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.