About My Father

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So you thought that Killers of the Flower Moon signalled that Robert De Niro had maybe packed it in with all the crazy grandpa roles. About My Father is proof he hasn’t. And whatever you might think of De Niro’s comedy chops in War With Grandpa, Dirty Grandpa and an intermittent run of others going back to 2000’s Meet the Parents (he was just a crazy father back then), he’s the best thing in this comedy written by and (sort of) starring stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco.

Maniscalco is the son of a Sicilian hairdresser father called Salvatore and here De Niro plays a Sicilian hairdresser father called Salvo – so join the dots on the autobiographical content – spending a holiday weekend with the parents of the girl his son wants to marry.

It’s Meet the Parents slight return, in other words, the difference being that in this comedy of embarrassment Salvo is very much the hard-working Chicago guy with the immigrant attitude, while his son’s intended’s parents are old money. “Even their dog went to better schools than I did,” says Sebastian (also the character’s name, dot-joiners) in voiceover.

This is a good cast. David Rasche, recently of Succession but forever a hero on account of the TV show Sledge Hammer, plays the easygoing father; Kim Cattrall the tough, US senator mother; Anders Holm the “prick” older son with a penchant for helicopters; Brett Dier the younger brother, a woke, tree-hugging virtue-signaller fond of kombucha. All very funny, though Rasche and Cattrall get the best of it.

What is odd is how unimportant Sebastian and his girlfriend, Ellie (Leslie Bibb), are in the scheme of things. They take a back seat while De Niro’s Salvo goes to work on the family, charming and disarming one minute, scaring and appalling them the next. There is an incident with a family pet that is the usual feature of these sort of things, and shows Maniscalco did his homework before sitting down to write.

He’s a standup and this is the first feature film he’s written so things do get a bit stand-uppy at times, his almost relentless voiceover intruding quite a bit and the interactions between Salvo and Sebastian often coming across as a funny man/straight man routine.

In their jimjams – Tigger, Ellie and Bill
In their jimjams – Tigger, Ellie and Bill

But De Niro welds it together, using a screwball delivery of lines to play Salvo as an old dynamo of the speak-first-think-later-if-at-all school.

It’s one of his best comedy performances and he also helps amplify the feelgood at the heart of Maniscalco’s goodtime script.

I’d not come across Laura Terruso before – except as a producer of the oddball lo-fi comedy Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same a few years ago – but she keeps the screwball vibe lively with direction that’s light and unobtrusive.

About My Father doesn’t have much to say that’s very profound, except that rich people have a tendency not to realise how many doors are always being held open for them. We’re with the poor people, the underdogs, the ones who actually do the work that the rich people live off.

I was prepared not to like this movie. I read Maniscalco’s IMDb entry before watching it and was slightly put off by its vainglorious puffery, possibly written by Maniscalco himself (and possibly more tongue in cheek than it came across). But I liked the film. It was fun and funny and it breezed along. And there’s a moment in it when things get emotional and De Niro has to do some of that real acting stuff he made his name on. And he pulls it off brilliantly, then changes gear back down into comedy again. There will undoubtedly be more crazy grandpas.

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© Steve Morrissey 2024

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