[Film review] About My Father

Review by John P. Harvey.

Sebastian (Sebastian Maniscalco; and, as a child, Adan James Carrillo) and the woman he lives with, Ellie (Leslie Bibb), have been skirting around the question of marriage.  On the matter of proposal, Sebastian believes a proposal of marriage should be a private and intimate matter; Ellie (without subsequent relevance) wants a public proposal — something she announces as they participate in a homosexual couple’s very public proposal of marriage.

But now Sebastian has been invited to spend the fourth-of-July weekend at Ellie’s family home; her family wants to meet him.  And it’s Sebastian’s perfect opportunity to present her with his grandmother’s ring — if his father will let him have it.

But Sebastian’s father, popular award-winning hairdresser Salvo (Robert De Niro), isn’t letting Sebastian’s grandmother’s ring go to some girl whose family he hasn’t met.

Salvo’s Sicilian demonstrativeness, expressive mannerisms, and firm views can be embarrassing for the American-born Sebastian; he can’t contemplate letting his father humiliate him before Ellie’s well-to-do family.  But Ellie, knowing that this weekend of the year is an important one to Salvo, insists on inviting him to go with them.  Well, Sebastian knows that Salvo will never accept the invitation…

Thus does Ellie’s family — her father, Bill (David Rasche); mother, Tigger (Kim Cattrall); and brothers, the ambitious, outgoing, overly self-confident Lucky (Anders Holm) and the quieter but equally attention-hungry Doug (Brett Dier) — meet the irresistible force of Sebastian’s family-embracing Sicilian dad.

Its storyline hampered by weak motives and arbitrary inclusions — holding together as a series of humorous vignettes rather than as a tale with relevant plot points — About My Father relies most for its appeal upon character and situation.  And it manages well enough to slide over all the difficulties of contradictions and irrelevancies in the same way that many others do: by punching quickly into scenes that distract us from the cognitive dissonances in its premises.  Such cosmetic surgery doesn’t actually restore the film’s structural integrity; but it does let us overlook such weaknesses.

As you can guess, there’s plenty of embarrassment to go around, and not all of it relates to Salvo’s traits.

The vast differences between Salvo’s and Sebastian’s personalities provide a natural focus for much of the entertainment, usually at Sebastian’s expense — though it’s a family pet that will bear the ultimate cost of Salvo’s irrepressibility.  Maniscalco, playing Sebastian, is a skilled comic; yet the comedy arises, by and large, from De Niro’s superb acting.  Even in playing an expressive Sicilian family man, he manages to underplay the part to perfection.

A good deal of fun.

Screening at Dendy and Palace cinemas.

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