After a handful of supporting roles in “Tag”, “Green Book” and “The Irishman”, Sebastien Maniscalco makes its first bid for leader status with “About my father”, a family comedy from the same semi-autobiographical material that made its stand-up a commercial and cultural phenomenon. To say it’s better than all three “Meet the Parents” movies might be a dubious compliment, but it’s a bigger fact because it co-stars. robert de niro — and more importantly, actually features recognizable human behavior amid its suitably extravagant settings. Whether or not Maniscalco has a legitimate future as a movie star, he proves a sympathetic presence as a romantic lead, while the director Laura Terruso deftly delivers comedic payoffs that tap into its wheelhouse while introducing it to a wider audience.

Maniscalco plays “himself,” the successful manager of a Chicago-based boutique hotel who falls in love with painter and artist Ellie Collins (Leslie Bibb). The son of widowed Italian immigrant hairdresser Salvo (De Niro), Sebastian is a little uncomfortable with the wealth of the Collins family, which owns an international chain of resorts and hotels, but when Ellie invites him to meet her parents during the 4th of July holidays. celebration, he decides it’s a perfect opportunity to propose. The only catch is that the family ring Sebastian was hoping to use for his proposal is held tightly by Salvo, who insists on checking the Collins himself before agreeing to hand it over.

Simultaneously nervous about meeting Ellie’s blue blood parents Bill (David Rasche) and Tigger (Kim Cattrall) and the inevitable culture shock between them and blue-collar Salvo, Sebastian navigates every social opportunity with severe discomfort. But what baffles him even more about Salvo looking askance at the Collins is when his father begins to make an effort to fit in – prompting him to wonder if he’s encouraging a betrayal of the solid upbringing of immigrants around which the Maniscalcos have shaped their family identity. While his own negotiation with Salvo forces uncomfortable conversations between father and son, their presence over the weekend reveals secrets between the Collins family members, forcing Sebastian to find a way to make peace – even if it puts jeopardizing his ability to ask for Ellie. hand in marriage.

Written by Maniscalco with partner Austen Earl, “About My Father” suits the comedian just as well as Salvo’s Speedo: he can flex his acting muscles slightly while still enjoying plenty of room to deliver occasional riffs worthy of his stand-up routines. His audience knows that family peccadilloes are the cornerstone of this material, which firmly nests this fictional exploration of a similar subject matter in its comfort zone. But where 2022’s “Easter Sunday,” a budding similar vehicle for Filipino comedian Jo Koy, leaned too heavily on finding opportunities for Koy to essentially replicate his stage show, Terruso keeps the monologue to a comfortable minimum and encourages Maniscalco to wrestle with those family dilemmas like, well, a real comedian.

Back in the days of the “Fockers”, De Niro – the former standard-bearer of the intensity of the action method – brought up the gravity he had cultivated with the likes of Martin Scorsese by working in the face of the comedy superstar Ben Stiller. After his recent reunion with Scorsese and filmmakers like David O. Russell, he seems to be acting again. Even though Salvo Maniscalco is cut from a cloth similar to Jack Byrnes, he infuses humanity, even friendliness, into the cantankerous barber. It’s a virtue the film calls Salvo’s inclinations to judge everyone around him, even if the impulse seems naturalistic, and it positions him – and everyone around him – as likeable people trying to find their way, successfully or not, through tricky situations. . That said, he looks less convincing as a hairstylist in a beauty salon than the guy dropping a palette of hair products in the aisle behind.

After “Talladega Nights,” “Zookeeper,” “Hell Baby,” and “Tag” among others, Leslie Bibb has earned her pedigree as a lead comedy whisperer, and tunes right into Maniscalco’s wavelength by as an on-screen partner who is substantial but also in on the joke. Rasche capitalizes on his “estate” career by virtually codifying the privilege of the wealthy, isolated old white man as Bill. Cattrall not only rekindles her razor-sharp comedic instincts from her “Sex and the City” days, but even from “Police Academy” and “Big Trouble in Little China,” portraying a hard-nosed senator shrewd enough to recognize when a personally disastrous cut her of hair (provided by Salvo) can be exploited for political purposes. Meanwhile, Anders Holm and Brett Dier play the Collins’ over-spoiled sons Lucky and Doug, whose decadent self-indulgence further underscores Sebastian’s ambition and drive when he doesn’t generate easy laughs at their expense. .

Ultimately, the fact that Sebastian is less intimidated by his future in-laws and more by his father’s potential to embarrass him creates a compelling dynamic that many viewers will identify with. There are unfortunately no discussions of animals that can or cannot be milked, but in their place are much more relatable scenes, such as one where a parent is relentless, even obnoxious, in their determination to pay a check. As a comedian, Maniscalco has tapped into universal experiences that amuse and embarrass many generations and cultures, and he translated that feeling onto the screen with affection and humor. With Terruso’s light touch as director, he also delivered what has become a growing rarity on the big screen: a comedy that can entertain the whole family.

In a drought of similar offerings, “About My Father” works because it aims for specific targets but is big and wide enough to encompass those off target. Maniscalco hasn’t quite proven he can direct a film that isn’t inspired by or “about” him, but this first effort is charming and earnest enough to encourage viewers to meet him where he is. is currently in his career.


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