Sebastian Maniscalco and Robert De Niro in About My Father (2023)

‘About My Father’ movie review: Robert De Niro highlights better-than-expected comedy

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A second-generation Italian-American tries to stave off embarrassment while introducing his larger-than-life father to his future in-laws in About My Father, now playing in Prague cinemas and available on VOD streaming services worldwide. While initially an entirely generic romantic comedy, a tender and affectionate performance from Robert De Niro elevates About My Father into a much better film than its poor reviews have indicated.

About My Father stars stand-up comic Sebastian Maniscalco, who also co-wrote the film with Austen Earl and based the movie on his own experiences. He plays Sebastian, who opens the film with nonstop narration covering his childhood growing up under first-generation Italian-American father Salvo (De Niro) right through the opening events of the film, with the girlfriend (Leslie Bibb‘s Ellie) he is about to propose to.

The first ten minutes of About My Father unfold in overbearingly-narrated montage that will be enough to turn most viewers away. But they also feature scenes with a de-aged De Niro (presumably using traditional makeup effects) that feel more authentic than anything in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and efficiently set up everything to come.

Sebastian is about to propose to Ellie, who comes from an upper-class WASP family, and seeking dad’s approval and his grandmother’s ring. Salvo wants to meet the potential in-laws before giving his son the go-ahead, and there just happens to be a big Fourth of July affair at Ellie’s family’s second home that makes for a prime location for some culture-clash comedy.

This is the usual Meet the Parents setup, with the twist that dad that causes the embarrassment, and he could care less either way — in other words, it’s Meet the Fockers. And De Niro’s dad only mildly clashes with Ellie’s hotelier father (Succession‘s David Rasche), mother (Kim Cattrall), and two brothers, hotshot Lucky (Anders Holm) and spiritual Doug (Brett Dier).

Most of the tension in About My Father seems to be taking place within Sebastian’s head, as pop is more than capable of getting along with the one-percenters. And while the film is surprisingly light on comedy given that it stars a stand-up comic, De Niro gives it an unexpectedly heartfelt base with a genuinely touching performance. This may not be Meet the Parents, but it’s a long way from The War with Grandpa.

Maniscalco shares some terrific scenes with De Niro, displaying both a sharp comic edge and a wonderful father-son camaraderie. In Sebastian’s scenes with Bibb’s Ellie and the future in-laws, meanwhile, the character feels completely neutered. That’s part of the point of About My Father, but it also leaves us wishing for a different resolution; this guy isn’t a Ray Romano, and we’d rather see him in a more authentic setting.

About My Father is fairly routine in most respects, but it never becomes juvenile or offensive, and gets a lot of mileage from De Niro’s affectionate central performance. This movie was trounced by critics and tanked at the box office, but those who give a chance at home will be moderately rewarded.

About My Father

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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