When Sebastian Maniscalco Calls His Movie ‘About My Father,’ You’d Better Believe Him

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Sebastian Maniscalco, next to his father (CREDIT: Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)

Starring: Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Kim Cattrall, David Rasche, Anders Holm, Brett Dier

Director: Laura Terruso

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Mildly Off-Color Jokes and A Full Moon

Release Date: May 26, 2023

What’s It About?: Sebastian Maniscalco has now joined the time-honored tradition of comedians making movies about their very own lives. Ain’t that something? It certainly helps that he knows some memorable characters, including one in particular. That would be his Sicilian immigrant father Salvo, here played by none other than Bobby De Niro. Salvo values hard work and frugality above all else, except when it comes to cologne. You might not expect a guy like that to be a hairdresser, but he is in fact an undisputed master of the cosmotelogical arts. As for the plot, Sebastian is finally ready to propose to his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb) on a Fourth of July trip. He brings his dad along, but a little warily, because he’s not so sure about the impression he’ll make on Ellie’s upper crust family. If that sounds like a formula for gags involving peacock slaughter and accidental indecent exposure, then you know exactly what you’re in for!

What Made an Impression?: I’m fairly certain that the screening of About My Father I attended was mostly filled with Sebastian Maniscalco fans, and they were cracking up the whole way through. So if you count yourself a connoisseur of his comedy, then you should probably check it out as well. I wouldn’t say that he’s fully won me over, but I see the appeal, and it’s an enduring and pretty much universal hook. You don’t have to be Italian-American to understand his family’s immigrant story, and you don’t have to be a child of immigrants to have wacky relatives. About My Father doesn’t break the mold at all with its family dynamics. In fact, it’s as moldy as they come, but it knows exactly what it wants to do, and it pulls it off comfortably.

It certainly helps to have pros on hand who can sell the emotion and trust in the wilder flights of fancy. This isn’t vintage De Niro, but it’s not sleepwalking De Niro either. I imagine he caught some of Sebastian’s stand-up, cracked a smile, said “That’s funny,” and then knew exactly how he was going to play the part. Ellie’s generically conservative parents seem to exist totally divorced from any political reality, but David Rasche is comforting even when you hate what he’s doing, and Kim Cattrall of course cannot be denied. As Ellie’s brothers, Anders Holm is maybe a little too much of a hardcore country club douche (though that’s of course what you hire him for), while Brett Dier is a scene-stealer as a woo-woo positive energy seeker. In conclusion, everyone hits their marks on time, the laughs arrive efficiently, and we all get to go home after an hour and a half.

About My Father is Recommended If You Like: Mining new laughs out of old clichés

Grade: 3 out of 5 Colognes

‘Somewhere in Queens,’ You’ll Find Ray Romano’s Directorial Debut

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The Kings, and Queens, and Princes of Queens (CREDIT: Roadside Attractions)

Starring: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf, Jacob Ward, Sadie Stanley, Tony Lo Bianco, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jennifer Esposito, Dierdre Friel, Jon Manfrellotti

Director: Ray Romano

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Family Members Yelling at Each Other and Horny Teenagers

Release Date: April 21, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Leo Russo (Ray Romano) is just a regular guy living in Queens, New York. Almost every single one of his waking hours is spent with his boisterous Italian-American family, whether it’s their regular Sunday dinner, the latest wedding or christening, or the construction jobs alongside his dad (Tony Lo Bianco), brother (Sebastian Maniscalco), and nephews. The only time he really perks up nowadays is when he watches his son Matthew, nicknamed “Sticks” (Jacob Ward), leading the charge for his high school basketball team. Things are looking pretty promising for Sticks, what with a new girlfriend (Sadie Stanley) and college recruiters sniffing around. But when that road becomes a little rocky, Leo goes a bit too far to ensure that everything works out for his boy. What will his wife Angela (Laurie Metcalf) think? And will he overstep so far that he ends up alienating his entire family?

What Made an Impression?: Somewhere in Queens is basically what it would be like if there were an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where all the adults were suffering from midlife crises and all the kids were having quarter-life crises. It’s Romano’s feature directorial debut, so maybe it’s something he’s wanted to do for a while and just felt like he couldn’t within network sitcom confines. It’s not a massive departure, as he certainly brought plenty of sadsack energy to his portrayal of Ray Barone and plenty of other performances, but the dark clouds are more persistent here. Even the sillier moments are filled with inescapable melancholy. So, you know, if you’re a Ray Romano superfan, just know what you’re getting yourself into.

Bitterer-than-average turns is the name of the game for just about everybody, especially Laurie Metcalf as frustrated mom Angela, who is not at all excited about her pending empty nest era. Plenty of us know her and love her for the zingers she’s delivered with aplomb as Aunt Jackie on Roseanne and The Conners. As Angela, she’s much nastier and more resentful, but the variety that’s fueled by a mother’s love. (Regular viewers of ABC’s current Wednesday night lineup will also recognize Sadie Stanley from her time on The Goldbergs.)

At the center of it all is Jacob Ward as Sticks, who’s giving a performance that can fairly be described as “the opposite of charismatic.” That’s not a criticism; rather, it’s what the script calls for. Crafting a story around the most diffident teenager in the universe doesn’t make for the most enjoyable viewing experience from my vantage point. But there are probably plenty of viewers who will find something to relate to. And that pretty much sums up Somewhere in Queens altogether: far from a hoot and a half, but recognizably human.

Somewhere in Queens is Recommended If You Like: Weekends filled with weddings, christenings, and anniversaries

Grade: 3 out of 5 Construction Gigs

‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ Keeps It Faithful, But Why Not Be Weirder?


Plumbing the depths (CREDIT: Nintendo and Universal Studios)

Starring: Chris Pratt, Anya-Taylor Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan Michael-Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Charles Martinet, Kevin Michael Richardson

Directors: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: PG for Scrapes and Scuffles That Don’t Leave a Mark

Release Date: April 5, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: The Mario brothers are ready to take their plumbing business to the next level! Better watch out for those pipes, though. Based on the long-running series of Nintendo video games, the gang’s all here in the faithfully colorful Super Mario Bros. Movie. Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) find themselves suddenly sucked into a fantastical kingdom where wooden blocks hold the promise of physical transformation. They team up with Princess Peach (Anya-Taylor Joy) to defeat the over-the-top villainous Bowser (Jack Black), while a mushroom creature (Keegan Michael-Key) and a goofy gorilla (Seth Rogen) round out the core crew.

What Made an Impression?: Mario and Luigi have of course made it onto the big screen before, though 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros. was widely considered an unmitigated disaster. Bizarrely enough, this latest cinematic adventure keeps the same basic skeleton, as the Mario brothers drive around Brooklyn in their plumbing van, only to then find themselves in the middle of an interdimensional conflict. But beyond that shared setup, it’s a vastly different journey this time. The 1993 version isn’t exactly a misunderstood classic, but it is unlike pretty much anything else that came before or after. Meanwhile, this computer-animated update is basically a series of right-down-the-middle cutscenes.

It’s harmless and amusing in spots, but stripped of way too much personality. It all starts with the voice of the stocky fellow at the center. Chris Pratt has some useful tools in his skill set, but bringing to life an iconically cartoonish ball of energy is not one of them. There’s even a joke about how he sounds nothing like the Mario of the video games! Now look, Bob Hoskins didn’t exactly sound like classic Mario either, but he brought something undeniably unique. Pratt’s mandate, meanwhile, appears to be to turn him into Bland Everyman Hero.

At least everyone else is able to stretch and have some fun. Black in particular has a blast, as he transforms Bowser into the dragon-turtle version of Tenacious D, while Fred Armisen’s Cranky Kong sounds just like his impression of Anna Nicole Smith trial judge Larry Seidlin. There are also plenty of reliable needle drops, though I’m not sure some of them have anything to do with Mario. (“Take on Me,” anyone?) Ultimately, my favorite part of The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the Illumination logo at the beginning that features a Minion attempting to drive a go-kart, which led me to realize that it’s high time to incorporate those little yellow fellas into the Nintendo universe.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is Recommended If You Like: Bright colors and simple plots

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Power Ups