About My Father
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sebastian Maniscalco, Leslie Bibb, Kim Cattrall, David Rasche, Anders Holm, Brett Dier
Distributor: Roadshow Entertainment
Runtime: 90 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
When Sebastian tells his old-school Italian immigrant father Salvo that he is going to propose to his all-American girlfriend, Salvo insists on crashing a weekend with her parents.
American television audiences may be familiar with Maniscalco, though he is perhaps not so widely known outside the US. But, this is his film – co-writer, the main star, and keeping his own name as it is a story based on his own father and his growing up. It runs for 90 minutes. It can be described as a light comedy. And it works happily within this framework.
This is a film about family with an oft-quoted Italian saying that ‘family is all’. In fact, this is a film about two families – Sicilian migrants in the 1950s and a wealthy family descended from the Mayflower pilgrims.
Sebastian narrates the story of growing up with his father Salvo from the vantage point of middle age. His mother died when he was young and his father a renowned hairdresser in Chicago. Sicilian to the core but coming to America to live the American dream, he is the archetypical migrant – serving in Vietnam, having a hard-work ethos and making a success of his life. Salvo is happy within his limited world and has suspicions about wealthy American families.
The great advantage of the film is that Salvo is played by De Niro, clearly enjoying himself. Maniscalco and De Niro play off each other well.
The complication is that Sebastian is in love with Ellie (Bibb). Salvo is wary as Ellie is not the kind of Italian fiancee Salvo expects. One 4 July holiday, Ellie invites Sebastian to her parents’ luxurious home and the local country club. Sebastian, tormented, worrying one way or the other, persuades his father to come. What follows, of course, is a whole lot of comedy – some slapstick and farcical. Salvo is the fish out of water with the wealthy parents indulging their eccentric sons. The father is an owner of a string of top-class hotels and the mother an aggressive Senator for Maryland (played by veterans Rasche and Cattrall).
On the one hand, the point is to sit back and enjoy the comedy of errors. On the other hand, we are asked to give serious attention to the protective role of parents, wanting the best for their children, but holding on to them for too long
One might say that a lot of the comedy is fairly silly but, given the cast, enjoyably silly. (We have never seen Robert De Niro participating in an egg and spoon race before!) Things do get serious towards the end but there is a happy ending. (Those who know Italian will get the joke about the peacocks when they hear that De Niro’s dinner recipe mentions Pavone – and we have seen the strutting peacocks in the grounds. And the final humorous joke about the peacocks pays off!)
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