There’s this belief that the studio comedy is slowly dying. While only 10 years ago we’d be greeted each weekend with a brand-new studio comedy, now they feel far and few in between. The summer 2023 movie season feels like the first in a long time that harkens back to those days with films like No Hard Feelings, Strays, The Machine, and Joy Ride all making their way to the big screen. Then there’s About My Father, a new film starring two-time Academy Award winner and legend of the screen Robert De Niro alongside Sebastian Maniscalco in his first starring role. If you haven’t heard of Maniscalco, there’s a good chance that the next person you talk to does as he’s become one of the biggest names in the stand-up comedy scene.


In the film, Maniscalco plays a fictionalized version of himself who is dating the lovely Ellie (Leslie Bibb). When he’s invited to spend the Fourth of July with Ellie’s wealthy and very American family for the Fourth of July, Sebastian reluctantly brings along his father Salvo (de Niro), an Italian immigrant hairstylist who is unfiltered but loving, in his own unique way. Ellie’s family consists of the matriarch Tigger (Kim Cattrall), a polarizing politician who is constantly making waves on the cable news circuit, her father Bill (David Rasche) who tries to keep a happy face despite his constant concerns about his children, her douchey brother Lucky (Anders Holm) who has a knack for aviation, and the hippy socialist Doug (Brett Dier) who spends his time playing with sound bowls and serenading the family’s pet peacock. It’s clear from the get-go that Ellie and Sebastian are from different walks of life and bringing their families together creates a massive clash of cultures where secrets are spilled, feathers are ruffled, and peacocks are eaten.

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‘About My Father’ Is a Love Story Between Father and Son

Image via Lionsgate

About My Father is both exactly what you’d expect it to be and also one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s in the vein of the studio comedies of the early aughts like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Meet the Parents while also having a bit of Wedding Crashers thrown in there as well. It would have been extremely easy to have its sense of humor built completely around one-note stereotypes but director Laura Terruso, as well as co-writers Maniscalco and Austen Earl, don’t go that route. There is something so sweet and honest about the film as it’s a romantic comedy where the love story is about the bond between father and son. Ellie’s wealthy family aren’t portrayed as villains nor is Salvo portrayed as some antagonist father. Instead, the film establishes very early on that these two families are from different worlds. The film opens with Maniscalco narrating a montage about what it means to be Silician as well as reminiscing about his childhood, so by the time we meet Ellie’s family, Terruso doesn’t antagonize them, but instead shows them as otherworldly. For example, when we first meet Lucky he’s stepping out of the family’s helicopter wearing a flight suit that makes him look like he just walked off the set of Top Gun: Maverick.

De Niro’s track record in comedy has had some mighty heights, the aforementioned Meet the Parents, Analyze This, and Silver Linings Playbook, as well as some dismal lows such as Dirty Grandpa and The Big Wedding. Fortunately, de Niro is in fine form playing Salvo, who is directly based on Maniscalco’s real-life father. In a role that feels almost the polar opposite of Jack Byrnes, de Niro gleefully throws out witty one-liners about being an immigrant, building Nintendos out of wood, and Che Guevera. He’s clearly having a wonderful time on set, and he truly does feel so natural as this character (it probably helps that he met up with the real-life Salvo before and during filming). He plays Salvo like he’s that relative that you only see at family reunions who lives in his own world, talking to you for hours as you sit next to him while downing your fourth bottle of beer, not annoyed, but having the time of your life. Paired with Maniscalco’s everyman, the two leading men have excellent chemistry, bouncing off of each other extremely well. Leslie Bibb, Kim Cattrall, David Rasche, and Anders Holm all get their time to shine as well, but the supporting cast’s biggest scene-stealer is Brett Dier as Doug who garners some of the film’s biggest laughs every time he appears on screen.

‘About My Father’ Brings Maniscalco’s Jokes to the Big Screen

Robert De Niro in About My Father
Image via Lionsgate

The plot of About My Father is extremely predictable in nature and not all the jokes land as hard as they could have, including a bit about Maniscalco’s fear of flying, but there’s a lot of sincerity that surrounds the film and makes it incredibly easy to fall for. The film does feel a little bit rushed, with a runtime of just under 90 minutes, and it would’ve been nice to spend a bit more time with the characters, especially as the ending does come abruptly as some of the character’s dilemmas are solved a little too quickly and easily.

There are not a lot of movies out there that you can take the entire family to the theater for (outside of some of the tent-pole blockbusters, but even then) where everybody will enjoy themselves regardless of age, especially in the realm of comedies, but About My Father really does feel like it is from a different, and simpler era. It’s never mean-spirited (well except maybe towards peacocks) nor is its humor ever too edgy. Both Maniscalco and Laura Terruso have said that they made the film as a love letter to their respective parents, and it clearly shows. This obviously isn’t a film that’s striving to win any major awards but, at the same time, it isn’t as sophomoric as some of the marketing may have led you to believe. Maniscalco has built himself a very large and dedicated following through his work in stand-up, and with About My Father, he’s finally able to bring his jokes to the big screen in a way that will please his fans but also garner him some new loyal followers as well.

Rating: B

About My Father opens in theaters everywhere on May 26.

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