I Love My Dad, 2022.
Written and Directed by James Morosini.
Starring James Morosini, Patton Oswalt, Lil Rel Howery, Amy Landecker, Claudia Sulewski, Rachel Dratch, Sarah Helbringer, and Ricky Velez.
A hopelessly estranged father catfishes his son in an attempt to reconnect.
Take yourself back to the days of middle school pre-public presentation anxiety. I Love My Dad feels like that for every one of its gloriously awkward and uncomfortable 95 minutes. The key reason behind that is the events depicted supposedly actually happened to writer and director James Morosini (making his feature-length debut), who also stars in the lead role as Franklin.
Following years of drifting apart to the point of estrangement and getting blocked on all social media, Chuck (Patton Oswalt toeing the line between an unlikeable piece of garbage and a well-meaning pathetic sadsack) comes up with the most manipulative imaginable (unintentionally planted there by a hilarious Lil Rel Howery, functioning as both the voice of reason best friend and a goof with his lousy advice); making a fake Facebook profile of a real-life attractive local diner waitress to catfish his son Franklin and reconnect.
A few flashbacks show that Chuck has always misguidedly expressed affection for Franklin. As a child, the two stumbled across a lost dog that Franklin wanted to return to its owners, only for Chuck to pull down any missing dog sign they came across unbeknownst to the boy. There’s no mistaking that Chuck is problematic to his core, impulsively acting under the impression that he is doing something good. He also appears to be a compulsive liar and selfish, considering how downhill the father-son relationship went over the years.
Here’s where I Love My Dad might stop being acceptable even as a dark comedy for some: Franklin is also reentering society after group therapy following a suicide attempt. To a fault, the story also doesn’t seem too concerned with Franklin’s mental health or what drove him to attend taking his own life other than feeling like a loser. It’s also reasonable to assume that the filmmaker has also had mental health battles since the general plot is based on something James Morosini’s father did.
From a story selling standpoint, that means that aside from the natural yikes factor of the setup, there is also terrifying anxiety that once Franklin finds out the truth (obviously Chuck is caught. Otherwise, this movie wouldn’t exist), it may send him over the edge once and for all. Every scene of I Love My Dad puts the “dark” in dark comedy, channeling disturbing, high-stakes rarely seen in the genre. Just because the real person is still here and has made this movie doesn’t mean it will have a happy ending.
That doesn’t mean every creative decision James Morosini makes is a winner. In an attempt to give the film some visual personality, many text message conversations are realized with Franklin imagining the waitress Becca (Claudia Sulewski) in his presence, which often serves as a cutesy distraction to how messed up this all is. Also, considering Franklin frequently imagines Becca wearing skimpy clothing and objectifies her for as much as he is genuinely happy that someone is listening to him, it’s just plain odd and creepy how quickly he falls and where his definition of love lands. However, an absolute riot of a sexting sequence and the climactic payoff involves gross commitment and dedication, so something does come out of it.
More importantly, because Franklin is a problematic character himself in different ways to his father Chuck, I was left questioning if Franklin had taken the fitting lessons from any of this wrongdoing by the time I Love My Dad concludes. Perhaps it’s a way of showing that abused people will go on to utilize similar tactics in the future (no, Franklin doesn’t catfish anyone, but there is sketchy behavior). Maybe it doesn’t matter because this is hilarious cringe to the max anchored by genuinely terrific performances from Patton Oswalt and James Morosini.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com