NOW IN THEATERS! “The following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn’t.” These words open writer/director/star James Morosini’s I Love My Dad, which is based on real events set in motion by his father. It is a bit cringe, very funny, and quite heartfelt, so strap in for an emotional rollercoaster.
Franklin (Morosini) is heading home after an attempted suicide. As part of getting his life onto the right path, Franklin blocks his father, Chuck (Patton Oswalt), on all social media sites. This pleases Diane (Amy Landecker), Franklin’s mom, as she’s long felt the absentee figure has been a poor influence on her son. But, it breaks Chuck’s heart when he discovers this.
Chuck goes to a diner while processing his feelings. The waitress, Becca (Claudia Sulewski), is very understanding and pleasant to the hurt, constantly lying parent. In a fit of emotional despair, Chuck creates a new profile on Facebook posing as Becca. As Becca, he befriends Franklin, and soon enough, the two hit it off. But Franklin falls quickly for the fake persona, a wrinkle his dad didn’t foresee. When Franklin asks his dad to drive him to meet Becca, things get even more complicated. How long can Chuck keep up the catfishing facade?
I Love My Dad is practically built on cringe comedy. Every idea Chuck has is facepalm-worthy levels of utterly misguided. I suspect that no matter the good intentions and heart present, some audience members will be awfully uncomfortable for the entire 100-minute runtime. As such, they’ll probably be unable to engage with and enjoy the film.
“…Chuck creates a new profile on Facebook posing as Becca.”
And that is too bad, as the comedic drama is excellent. For starters, while Chuck’s actions are beyond the pale and often idiotic, in his own warped way, he truly loves his son. And that is super important to the film succeeding. While Franklin’s dislike of his father is understandable, the filmmaker never judges Chuck for his deeds. Morosini simply observes how the deranged actions change father and son, hopefully for the better, but maybe not.
The emotional bonding and heart of I Love My Dad is not only in the script but also given life by the cast. Rachel Dratch is quite fun as Chuck’s current significant other, while Landecker makes the most of a relatively minor role. As Becca, who is the visual manifestation of the online conversations Chuck-as-her and Franklin have, Sulewski is effortlessly charming and sweet. It is easy to figure out how and why Franklin falls so fast.
But the film belongs to Morosini and Oswalt. Morosini brings the right amount of melancholic frustration to the role. Franklin’s stunted social cues and anger at his father is never in question, as the actor imbues a tragic but sweet veneer to the young romantic coder. For his part, Oswalt taps into that dark undercurrent he showcased so well in Big Fan and Young Adult. However, instead of letting the dark overwhelm the character, the comedian plays every decision as a well-intentioned game. There’s a certain lightheartedness to his actions, no matter how appalling, and that is because Oswalt never lets viewers forget how much Chuck does actually care for Franklin, even if the ways he shows that are messed up.
With I Love My Dad, James Morosini gets to place himself in his father’s shoes and try to better understand why Chuck did these things. His efforts are not in vain, as the comedic drama is heartfelt in unexpected ways. The cast, especially Morosini himself and Oswalt, are stunning and plumb the unsavory side of the human connection to find beauty in our faults. While it is not for everyone, those who can stomach the admittedly cringey, well everything about the plot, will find much to love.
I Love My Dad screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
"…the film belongs to Morosini and Oswalt."