SXSW-winner takes cringe comedy to the next level when a hapless father catfishes his own son

I Love My Dad

Source: Atlas Industries

‘I Love My Dad’

Dir/scr. James Morosini. USA. 2022. 95 mins

Serially unreliable and a perpetual disappointment to those around him, divorced dad Chuck (Patton Oswalt) has repeatedly failed to step up to his responsibilities as a parent to his son Franklin (played by the film’s writer and director James Morosini). But when the vulnerable Franklin cuts him out of his life by blocking him on social media, Chuck impulsively sets up a fake account, borrowing the name and identity of a kindly waitress at his local diner, and inadvertently catfishes his own son into a fake online relationship. It is hard to overstate just how uncomfortable this turns out to be, a kind of emotional gross-out comedy in which Morosini ratchets up eye-watering levels of ick. The story is, he claims, based on a real-life incident (although given the film’s central spine of deception, who knows to what extent that is the case, if at all). One thing is certain – having squeezed every last drop of mortification from the scenario, Morosini – both as a writer-director and through his alter ego – is ultimately rather more forgiving of his father than the audience might be. 

Unshowy and functional in his directorial approach, Morosini wisely keeps it light.

The second feature from Morosini, following the comedy Threesomething (2018), I Love My Dad took home the top prize in the Narrative Feature Competition following its premiere at SXSW. Further festival exposure is likely, particularly at events with a focus on US indie cinema, where Oswalt’s involvement, however toe-curling his character, will be a selling point. Although the sheer visceral embarrassment of the picture lends itself to the collective squirm of an audience screening, this is a film which would lose little in terms of the viewing experience if it ultimately found a home on a streaming platform.

Patton brings a courageous lack of vanity to a performance which downplays his natural wit and humour in favour of depicting a charmless, self-absorbed loser prone to making catastrophically ill-judged decisions. Meanwhile, as Franklin, a socially maladroit, psychologically damaged man in his early twenties, Morosini’s performance conveys a kind of aching vacancy. Franklin desperately needs something – he is not quite sure what – to make him feel whole. So when a very pretty girl sends him a friend request on Facebook, Franklin is only too happy to disregard the fact that he has never met her and that her account has no other friends.

Given that it is twelve years since the documentary by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost introduced the idea of ‘catfishing’ to the wider world and that the concept has subsequently achieved its own pop-cultural momentum with a television series and sundry clickbait news stories, Franklin’s naivety speaks, perhaps, to an unusual degree of mental fragility. He has, we learn, recently attempted to take his own life. With that in mind, it is sometimes hard to get past the question of what kind of a monster would risk jeopardising his only son’s mental health in order to gratify his own needs?

Unshowy and functional in his directorial approach, Morosini wisely keeps it light. The social media interactions between Franklin and “Becca”, Chuck’s avatar, play out in real life, with Claudia Sulewski materialising alongside Franklin to gently banter with him, playful chat which Franklin immediately interprets as flirtation. Things progress the way they do in online relationships, and Franklin and an appalled Chuck engage in a bout of “sexting”, which is queasily wrong on every conceivable level. Having put the audience through that moment, Morosini evidently decided that there was nowhere to go but down. The film’s conclusion combines actions on Chuck’s behalf which are pretty much unforgivable, and an ultimate hint of Franklin’s forgiveness: one way or another, it doesn’t quite add up.

Production company: Burn Later Productions, Atlas Industries, Hantz Motion Pictures, American High

International sales: Verve

Producers: Bill Stertz, Patton Oswalt, Sean King O’Grady, Dane Eckerle, Phil Keefe, Daniel Brandt, Sam Slater

Editing: Josh Crockett

Cinematography: Steven Capitano Calitri

Production design: Bret August Tanzer

Music: Jeremy Bullock

Main cast: Patton Oswalt, James Morosini, Claudia Sulewski, Rachel Dratch, Ricky Velez, Lil Rel Howery, Amy Landecker