Robert De Niro has built one of Hollywood’s most unique filmographies. He has worked with great filmmakers like Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in America), Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown), and Michael Mann (Heat). De Niro’s later career has focused on more familial-oriented films like the Meet the Parents franchise, Grudge Match (2013), The Intern (2015), and The War with Grandpa (2020). Each of those films was met with a mixed reception from critics and audiences. His latest family film, About My Father, hopes to break that trend.
The story follows Sebastian (Sebastian Maniscalco), an Italian-American who plans to propose to his American girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb). When he tells his old-school Italian immigrant father Salvo (De Niro), Salvo insists on crashing a weekend with her family (Kim Cattrall, David Rasche, Anders Holm, and Brett Dier). By reading that premise, it will be easy for some to guess the outcome of this story. About My Father is a film that thrives on the journey of the characters, but not their destination.
Where About My Father struggles is in the PG-13 “fish out of water” comedic moments. These moments in the trailer are supposed to offer the film’s biggest “laughs.” When in actuality, several of these scenes (a recurring bit with peacocks in particular) felt empty and unoriginal. The moments of heart and familial bonding are what help the film hit its stride. Those sequences are especially strong thanks to the interplay of our leads.
Maniscalco (The Irishman) and De Niro have strong chemistry together on screen. An actor of De Niro’s caliber is game for the comedic moments and delivers the film’s best and biggest laughs. When both actors are allowed great moments to banter with one another, they give the story heart and a real sense of poignancy. Clocking in at an 89-minute running time, this film soars in these heartfelt sequences. The problem is that these types of scenes are not given to the rest of the cast.
The surrounding cast of About My Father is relegated to the cheaper, silly gags. Comedic actors like Holm (Workaholics) and Cattrall (Sex and the City) do what they can in those broader moments with limited results. Those actors work best when they are given the chance to improvise. A particular sequence involving a tennis match managed to deliver a laugh-out-loud moment for me. The rest of the time, any attempt at jokes feels like basic juvenile humor. Brief moments of heart between De Niro and the family soar, but they are few and far between. It feels as if the screenplay focused on the best material being given to Robert De Niro.
He injects a poignancy into a character that could feel clichéd in the wrong hands. Maniscalco based this character on his father, and it shows the warts and all. Getting an actor of De Niro’s caliber helps make those possible clichés feel like loving homages. Once Salvo meets the extended family, he manages to give those bland characters some brief moments of honesty and relatability. It is a needed injection of humility that helped me forgive some of the broader comedic turns. One can only wish Salvo had more time to humanize other supporting characters.
About My Father is a far cry from being one of Robert De Niro’s best films. Not every moment works, but the heart remains in the right place. Maniscalco and De Niro have a sharp, funny, and relatable dynamic together. During the short running time, these heartfelt exchanges could be enough of a counter-balance to the silly comedy for some. Others may find the shifts in tone to be jarring no matter the running time. Instead of a typical love story, audiences are given a love story between fathers and sons. Though the outcome is predictable, the journey manages to be more enjoyable than the destination.
In theaters May 26th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Lionsgate About My Father website.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews
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