About My Father

Posted on May 25, 2023 at 5:32 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for Language, suggestive material, partial nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, references to drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, pet killed and eaten
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 26, 2023
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2023

Copyright Lionsgate 2023
Sebastian Maniscalco’s stand-up routines about his immigrant father are very funny. The transition to a narrative feature for “About My Father” is mildly amusing, with all of the highlights in the trailer. What you have not seen already seems like filler, mostly exposition and a tacked on “meet the parents,” “aren’t our cultural differences a hoot” overlay.

Sebastian Maniscalco plays…Sebastian Maniscalco. That is his character’s name, and Robert De Niro plays Sebastian’s real-life father, Salvo, who left Sicily as a young man to emigrate to America, served in the US Army in Vietnam, and then established a successful hair salon in Chicago. In this film, Sebastian is not a performer but manager of a boutique hotel. Like most first-generation Americans, he has tried to separate himself from his heritage, and he is very much in love with a woman who is from a very different background.

Ellie is a sunny-tempered artist who grew up in a wealthy WASP family with several homes. She is played by Leslie Bibb, doing her best with her dazzling smile, trying to give some substance to a low-level manic pixie dream girl whose job is to be upbeat and supportive.

Ellie’s mother is Tigger (Kim Catrall), a US Senator. Her father, Bill (David Rasche) owns an international hotel company. She has two brothers. The first is heir apparent Lucky, nicknamed because he is the 13th generation to carry the ancestral name. He is played by Anders Holm, nailing the entitled frat boy. Then there’s Doug (Brett Dier), who is all about chakras and standing bells and healing meditations. If this is sounding a bit like “Wedding Crashers” and “Annie Hall” but not as good, you’ve got the idea.

Bill and Tigger are vaguely supportive of all three children, not usual for high-performing parents or for the kind of conflicts that hold an audience’s interest, but okay, this is not “Meet the Parents.”

When Ellie’s parents invite Sebastian for the first time to the annual 4th of July gathering, he is delighted, planning to propose to her. But Salvo makes him feel guilty — and won’t turn over the family ring if Sebastian leaves him alone. So, with a lot of trepidation, Sebastian brings Salvo along. And of course this leads to a lot of hijinks of various kinds, but they’re pretty low-level jinks, if you know what I mean. Salvo embarrasses Sebastian. Then Sebastian embarrasses himself. Then Salvo ingratiates himself. Then Salvo horrifies Tigger. Sebastian is not happy about any of this. It is sit-com-ish without much imagination in the sits or laughs in the com. There are a few good lines and it is funny to see how Sebastian and Salvo put on cologne every night before bed.

Stand-ups are often natural actors. When they tell stories on stage they act out all the parts. Maniscalco is especially good at this, with great physicality to assist in creating characters and showing reactions. But as an actor, he is more subdued and older than the character is written to be. The boy/girl and parent issues would be more fitting for someone in their 20s or 30s than for someone who is 50. A few guest appearances by TV stars and some wisecracks do little to brighten the various sit-com style incidents. We should not feel that the actors had more fun than the audience. Wait for streaming.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, comic nudity (bare tush), some sexual references, social drinking and references to drug use, the killing of a family pet, and some tense family confrontations.

Family discussion: What do Sebastian and Ellie have in common? Have you ever been embarrassed by your parents or children?

If you like this, try: Maniscalco’s stand-up and “Meet the Parents”

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Tag

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

One of the most reliably funny situations in literature is adults taking on with utmost seriousness the kinds of concerns generally left to children. The bigger the gap between the actual and perceived stakes, the funnier it gets. One of my favorite P.G. Wodehouse stories, “The Purity of the Turf,” is a classic example.

Tag” is the story of adult men who have been playing the same game since their schoolyard days. The players may not be all-stars when it comes to tagging each other, but as comic actors they are at the top of the class, and every one of the actors is a standout. Despite a couple of missteps in the script, it is one of the most consistently and even endearingly funny films of the summer.

Children like the game of tag because the rules are simple enough to learn immediately but complicated enough to negotiate over (no tag backs!), and because you can run around and triumph over each other. Normally, though, when children get older they prefer more structure and complexity and move on to amateur versions of popular games that you can see professionals play on television like tennis and golf. Not the “Tag Brothers,” though. As described in a 2013 Wall Street Journal front page story, a group of Catholic schoolboys spend a month each year trying to tag each other. They wear disguises and sneak into each other’s workplaces. They say that it keeps them young and literally keeps them in touch.

While this is a highly fictionalized — and very funny — version of the story, some of the wildest elements are true. One notorious tag occurred at the funeral of one member’s father. He became “it” as he stood at the side of his father’s grave. And, in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, he said his father would have loved it.

In a job interview, Hoagie (Ed Helms) explains that even though he is a veterinarian, he is applying for a job as a janitor because it is on his apparently quite literal bucket list. The job is at a large corporation, where Callahan, the CEO (Jon Hamm), is about to be interviewed by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca). Hoagie successfully not only tags Callahan but persuades him to leave the interview, the office, and pretty much any shred of adult responsibility to spend the month of May playing tag. There is a special reason for this year’s tag game. Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one of the group who has never been tagged. He’s essentially the tag ninja. He is getting married on the last day of the annual tag month, and the game may be over after that. Hoagie, Callahan, their stoner friend Chilli (Jake Johnson), and the high-strung Sable they interrupt in the middle of a therapy session (Hannibal Buress) join forces to get Jerry at last.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” the tag team likes to say, even though they are not always accurate about who said it. But it turns out that you can keep playing but you can’t put off getting old. The simplest game in the world, probably dating back to the Cro-Magnan era, cannot help developing an overlay of complexity as the players get older, both in tactics and stakes. That is part of what makes this movie so much silly fun. Seeing grown-ups strategize a game of tag — including formal legal amendments to the foundational agreement — gives this movie a joyful bounciness that becomes positively giddy.

The mayhem is deftly staged by director Jeff Tomsic and editor Josh Crockett, but the film never loses sight of how much the game means to the players and the people around them. Isla Fisher, as Hoagie’s wife, brings that “Wedding Crasher” intensity. She is as committed and competitive as the whole group of guys put together, and thank you to the filmmakers, including producer Will Ferrell, for not relegating the women in the cast to the “Now, honey, it’s time for you grow up” roles. Thomas Middleditch makes the most of his scene as a health club attendant with a braid and an attitude. Helms, Buress, and Johnson are all terrific, creating complete characters in the midst of the comic chaos, but it is a special pleasure to see Hamm and Renner, known for their dramatic roles, show off their comedy skills. With a team like this, I’d keep playing, too.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references and situations, a bare behind, extended comic peril, mayhem, and violence, medical issues played for comedy including cancer and a miscarriage, alcohol, alcoholism, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What childhood game do you still enjoy? What keeps you connected to your old friends?

If you like this, try; “The Hangover” and “Cedar Rapids”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review
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