For any performer, the transition from the live stage to the big screen is an exciting step forward in their career. For comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, it tacked on a second acting credit for his professional accomplishments in 2023, which includes his voice work in Illumination's The Super Mario Bros. Movie. This, ironically, could also count as a comedy centering around a relationship between two Italian-Americans. Those familiar with Maniscalco's standup work, they're incredibly familiar with his Italian roots and the stories he often tells about his father Salvatore. Maniscalco teamed up with Robert De Niro to retell the events that led up to him proposing to his now wife Lana Gomez, but the loose autobiography only emphasizes the weakest links in Maniscalco's material.
About My Father fails when daring to be different right from its opening moments. Its fourth-wall-breaking narration from Maniscalco attempts to catch audiences up with his life, but omits some important details. Maniscalco swaps the specifics of his hometown - Arlington Heights, Ill., - for the city of Chicago. While it's not uncommon for Chicago suburbanites to gloss over their cities if they can say they're from Chicago, it feels too vague for the scope of the film. Additionally, Maniscalo's wife-to-be and her family are both Jewish and Hispanic, so why are neither of these elements incorporated into the movie itself? This already deflates the potential for culture clashes between De Niro's Salvo and his daughter-in-law's family. Instead, the family is a two-dimensional, unoriginal, and all too familiar picture of the American 1%. Nothing about this family - or the movie - is memorable. About My Father struggles to hold the same sense of humor as Maniscalo's earlier, more successful work. Instead, it's far too immature for its own good, played up for laughs that do not land. Yes, Manscalo and De Niro are very Italian, but every trope hit seems to perpetuate the same assumptions made about Italian-Amerians. It's the only thing that About My Father has to work with.
From its get-go About My Father proves no hesitancy is made when diving head-first into stereotypes. These are incredibly harmless, yes, but restrict any room for originality. There's a plot to be followed, but at the same time, About My Father feels aimless as it jumps from scene to scene. It nears the feel of watching one of Maniscalco's Netflix specials if every single aspect of it was spoon-fed to an audience. There's more time dedicated to the jokiness of it all than the plot itself, and About My Father is desperate to be funny. Too much time is spent on each bit, and almost every performance outside of De Niro or Maniscalo feels canned, even unnatural in a way. The best scenes are the emotional beats between De Niro and Maniscalco, as they capture the exact heart that the movie struggles to find elsewhere. If only the timing in the third act would make sense by the time the incredibly predictable resolution of the story hits, maybe Maniscalo's on-screen debut would play more in his favor.
It's a surprise that Lionsgate gambled on such a disappointment for their Memorial Day Weekend release. By the time About My Father wraps itself up, you'll be more than about ready to leave the theater. 3/10.