“I Love My Dad” by James Morosini runs towards the edge of a cliff and embraces the timeless adage, “write what you know.” The tale is real: Morosini’s father pretended to be someone else online in order to check in and be close with his son who had blocked him on social media. It’s such a strange notion, and such a devastating position to be near someone that you have to laugh. I Love My Dad allows the viewer to do so over and over, resulting in a roller coaster ride of one desperate and terrible notion after another, which is sure to collapse and burn with style.
In the film, actor/writer Morosini plays himself as a young man named Franklin who has just completed rehab and is attempting suicide again. He’s awkward and anti-social, and he’s estranged from his father Chuck after years of major disappointments. Becca, a Maine native, sends Franklin a friend request soon after he gets home; he accepts it somewhat warily since she has no other internet friends. But Becca appears to be genuine in her interactions with Franklin, and he feels flattered and comforted by the attention and care she offers him. He develops an internet crush immediately; he’d want to go from Massachusetts to Maine so he could meet her. But on the other side of the screen, Becca is actually Chuck, and “Becca’s” photos have been lifted from a kind diner server named Becca (Claudia Sulewski) who once told a teary Chuck that “talking to people” was a good start.
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Patton Oswalt gives a sensitive performance as Morosini’s father, in line with his other complicated loners (“Young Adult,” “Big Fan”), and it’s one of the comedian’s finest acts in a film. While the film does not excuse Chuck’s sick sense of boundaries, or his failure as a dad for so long, Oswalt’s performance encourages us that this might be the moment when he is ready to become a more active father, which adds to the tragedy of catfishing his kid. Oswalt succeeds in moving the story forward by playing with the darkness and grossness without coming right out and showing it. He also (mostly) sells the film’s digs at Chuck’s faulty grasp of modern technology and lingo while still maintaining a level of sympathy. A character that proves to be a liar, avoidant, invasive, and very manipulative still becomes watchable with Oswalt’s talent as an actor. Perhaps he’s even charming.
There’s a devious cunning to this narrative that wants to see how far it can go with this scenario, and the discussions are a good way to do it. The film depicts the closeness of a fluttery text conversation as if they were real-life dates, as daydreams coming true in a long-distance relationship. “Becca” (his imagination of her) cuddles up close while speaking the stumbling, sometimes sincere words from Chuck behind his laptop and phone, instantly warming “Morosini’s” (the father’s) cold state. We remember the reality behind these events of soothing fantasy for both the son and father with key intercuts that act like punchlines without becoming repetitive. This technique adds to the film’s raw humor, such as when Franklin wants to text-kiss “Becca,” and we see what a cringe-inducing Chuck is feeling, as his son Franklin appears in the room, starry-eyed and eager to kiss.
The comic MVP of this film isn’t Oswalt or even actor/writer/director Morosini, but rather Claudia Sulewski. We’ve seen Oswalt’s narrator consider how he is a reflection of Nicole, but it is amusing to contrast him with his alter ego. She may be an avatar for Oswalt in that she repeats his words in her own voice with superb comic timing, while she can also be a fantasy figure for Franklin (walks on the water of a swimming pool). By the third act, Sulewski has such a firm grip on both “Becca” embellishments that her genuine Becca comes to have a particular poignancy and agency—a kind server at a Maine restaurant who has been dragged into an unsavory family situation. Her acting contributes to the film’s key tonal shifts between fantasy and reality.
As a result, the film feels a little too sitcom-like at times, with characters squabbling over one another and an overall lack of tension. Rachel Dratch is a sharp actress who shines as Chuck’s current lover, another individual he tries to control. Rachel Dratch is funny but only appears briefly as Franklin’s mother Diane, who eventually learns of her ex-husband’s sick theater; she has a punchy presence in the film. Lil Rel Howery, at the least, becomes more than simply the reactionary buddy in this film. He has plenty of head-shaking moments opposite his coworker Chuck, including one of the film’s best lines: “This is incest!”
There’s something intoxicating about a comedy that has complete control of its jackpot concept. By caring for nearly everything and everyone with such care, Morosini provides the audience multiple options, such as the psychoanalysis of how blind Chuck is or how deep our need for others to truly see us is when we write in a text bubble. “I Love My Dad” is a silly, uplifting comedy about two dads with very different personalities who must learn to work through their differences before their child wrecks everything. But every time its humor makes you cover your eyes, there’s also a lot of ugly, incredibly human things going on.
Stars:Patton Oswalt ,James Morosini ,Claudia Sulewski