Love is in the air, and Sebastian Maniscalco is ready to prove it by proposing to his girlfriend, Ellie Collins. After all, a pivotal piece of that puzzle just fell into place.
See, Ellie’s family just invited Sebastian to their summer home for their 4th of July family weekend—a beautiful piece of land that’s the perfect place for Sebastian’s plans. And the invitation itself confirms that the Collins family considers Sebastian a part of their clan.
There’s only one issue: He doesn’t have the family ring. It was given to his father, Salvo, to give to Sebastian once Salvo determines that his son isn’t going to just throw it at the first random girl who comes his way. So if Sebastian wants the ring, he needs his father to approve of his potential wife’s family—meaning that Salvo’s going to tag along on the trip.
Sebastian’s father is a hard-working Italian immigrant who would give you 10 reasons why a given purchase is too expensive before you can give one as to why it’s a good deal. Meanwhile, Ellie’s parents are descendants of the Pilgrims from the Mayflower, and their wealth has accumulated to the point that they don’t even need to consider the price of … well, anything. So convincing his father of the Collins isn’t going to be the easiest feat. Because while the Maniscalcos and the Collins aren’t nearly as intense as any Montagues and Capulets, their perspectives on life are that different.
About My Father is deeply rooted in family—its ups and downs, and all that comes with it. Both families want nothing but the best for their respective children. As Sebastian narrates to the audience, he was raised in a culture that valued doing everything you can to give your child a better life than the one you had. But as Sebastian and Ellie consider marriage, they come to realize that their families have approached that shared goal in vastly different ways.
And while those familial differences cause a couple of rifts between Sebastian’s father and Ellie’s parents, we’re treated to a nice conclusion. The story suggests that both families have unique and valuable characteristics that the other family doesn’t. In fact, when Salvo attempts to open up more to the way that Ellie’s parents operate, Sebastian grows more uncomfortable, not wanting his dad to sacrifice who he is in order to fit in for Sebastian’s sake.
Ellie’s attraction to Sebastian is partially due to how Sebastian’s father raised him: to be a go-getter, a hard worker who can confidently say that the successes in his life are a result of his personal work. Meanwhile, Sebastian’s attraction to Ellie stems in part from the new things she taught him as part of her experience growing up: like taking a break to rest and appreciate life.
Both initially find their family’s parental style to be annoying rather than fruitful. But when the couple realizes how much their parents have done for them (and, in Sebastian’s words, how “the way you raised me made me the man I am,”) they come to appreciate their parents’ efforts and values more deeply, with Sebastian telling Salvo how much he loves him and how he looks to him as a hero.
The youngest Collins member, a man named Doug, is practicing to become a healer through various Eastern spiritual practices. He uses bowls to produce deep sounds and holds crystals in his hands. He makes references to open chakras, and he prays with a crystal in his hand, asking to be kept safe “from negative energy.” It should be noted that Doug’s obsession with these practices is always played for laughs. Elsewhere, another person references feeling someone’s aura.
Someone exclaims, “Holy mother of God!” Sebastian describes growing up admiring his father: “to me, this man was a god.” When the family takes a Christmas card photo together, Doug wears pins and clothing meant to “represent all the holiday traditions.” We hear a reference to various popes. Salvo speaks into the air, addressing his deceased wife.
The Collins family takes Sebastian “jet booting,” and the water activity causes Sebastian’s swimsuit to fall to his ankles, exposing his genitals to everyone else. While we aren’t on the receiving end of that sight, we are subjected to about a minute-long scene of Sebastian flying through the air with his naked rear visible to the camera. At one point during the situation, Sebastian slams into the side of the boat, and those aboard comment on the size of Sebastian’s anatomy—and still more jokes follow later on.
Sebastian and Ellie attend a gay proposal, and the two men kiss. Someone praises a haircut for its “gender fluidity.”
Someone discusses “testicle-crushing speedos,” and we see a couple of photos of men in such swimwear. Ellie and Sebastian passionately kiss at one point, and we hear Ellie unzip Sebastian’s pants, but a sudden revelation causes the two to stop. Someone says that Ellie’s paintings somewhat resemble female genitalia.
During a tennis game, Salvo comments on how tennis skirts are too short and how the noises that players make when they hit the ball sound like an orgasm. Ellie’s brother Lucky gets hit in the crotch during the game, and we hear people commenting yet again on the male anatomy. Sebastian comments on wanting to touch Ellie’s breasts.
Lucky makes many sexual jokes and references. He asks if Ellie is still sleeping with Sebastian. (And we learn that the two of them are living together.) When someone tells Sebastian to “suck” in air during a panic attack, Lucky makes a crude joke. We hear a reference to herpes. A man is seen shirtless, and a woman is seen in a sports bra.
Someone gets hit in his crotch during a tennis game. Sebastian slams into the side of a boat. Salvo cooks a family peacock, and he and Sebastian blame the death of the bird on the family dog. While talking about cults, someone references the Jonestown Massacre.
The s-word is used four times. Other words used prominently include “a–,” “b–ch,” “h—” and “p-ss.” There’s additionally a single use of “d–n,” “b–tard,” “crap” and “prick” each. God’s name is abused 15 times, including two times that are in the form of “g-dd–n.” Jesus’ name is used in vain twice. Someone displays her middle finger. During a proposal, Sebastian and Ellie fail to hold up their respective letters of someone’s name, changing the man’s name from “Derick” to “d-ck.” Someone is called a “slut” in another language.
Lucky wonders why he wasn’t offered a position, and their father reveals that it’s because the job requires a drug test that they know he would fail. Later, he accepts the position on the contingency that he only uses prescription drugs. Someone describes an uncomfortable moment as “as close to an acid trip I ever want to be.” We see Lucky chugging beer at a party.
Salvo and Ellie’s mother, Trigger, blow smoke rings using cigars, and the scene goes on for some time. To that end, characters smoke in other scenes, too. A man vapes. People drink alcohol.
Doug reminds his family that the building they’re in was built by slaves. Several jokes involve excrement.
If there’s one thing Plugged In and About My Father agree on, it’s that focusing on our families is important. But the comedic tension in this story stems from the fact that Sebastian and Ellie’s clans both do that in very different ways.
That’s the central theme of About My Father. Sebastian and Ellie want to honor their parents, even when their respective parents have dueling interests. They soon learn that marriage means both of them will have to make sacrifices. After all, becoming one flesh makes those in-laws your family now, too.
And let’s be honest with ourselves: sometimes our parents’ quirks can drive us a bit crazy. But this film reminds us that despite all those little things about your parents that may annoy you, they still molded and shaped you into the person you are today.
And if I could end there, I would. But despite some strong messages that could mimic a Focus on the Family Parenting article, there’s much more that keeps this movie from making the cut. Namely, the film’s use of sexual jokes (including a long scene exposing Sebastian’s naked rear) and its heavy swearing.
As I left the theater, the positive family messages in About My Father were at the forefront of my mind. But I was also disappointed that I couldn’t just give this film’s many problems a pass. While the themes in About My Father are worthwhile, its embrace of PG-13 jokes and gags makes this film a hard sell to actually bring the family along to see it.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”