Sebastian Maniscalco, whose stand-up material and act is now a commercial and cultural phenomenon in the US and beyond (because of its autobiographical content), uses some of the same for his feature debut as co-writer and lead actor. This family comedy has a similar set-up as the ‘Meet the Parents’ franchise but it doesn’t play up the outlandish and weird; instead, it stays fairly real and mild even when in an exaggerated vein.
Maniscalco has done supporting roles in ‘Tag,’ ‘Green Book’ and ‘The Irishman’ and that experience lends him enough confidence to shoulder a feature of this sort. Of course, he has the acting powerhouse Robert De Niro to play off with.
Maniscalco plays Sebastian, the successful Chicago-based manager of a boutique hotel who falls for painter and artist Ellie Collins (Leslie Bibb) and has decided that the 4th of July weekend invitation to her home would be the best place to propose. For that, he needs to get the family heirloom ring which is in the custody of his widowed Italian immigrant hairdresser father, Salvo (De Niro). But Salvo, fearing that he would lose his son to super-rich potential in-laws, wants to vet the girl’s parents before agreeing to the engagement.
Written by Maniscalco and Austen Earl, the script is custom-made to showcase Maniscalco’s comedic talents.
There are moments when you begin to feel the strain of the script stretching it too thin but the director, Laura Terruso, keeps the tempo supple and engaging, deftly curbing the monologue to a bare minimum. Maniscalco’s style of acting is obviously exaggerated so it’s up to Robert De Niro to put on the brakes and temper it with some understated send-ups.
Even though De Niro plays it straight, it’s a difficult ask seeing him holding court as a hairdresser. Those scenes are done in the opening act itself so De Niro only has to work up steam as the possessive father and he does that with gruff, loveable affectation. Salvo Maniscalco, though similar to Jack Byrnes (of ‘Meet the Parents’), is far more accessible because his fears and needs are very much human. The underlying dynamic here has Sebastian less intimidated by his future in-laws and more afraid of his father’s potential to prove embarrassing for him.
Kim Cattrall as Tigger, a hard-nosed senator and mother to Ellie, pulls off a shrewd act when a disastrous haircut (provided by Salvo) has the potential to turn her into a laughing stock.
The film plays out like a sitcom with colourful production design and costumes and cinematography that accentuates these. Editor Scott D Hanson delivers the biggest lure by keeping the movie to a workable 90 minutes.
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