"I Love My Dad" an extremely uncomfortable but funny father-son comedy

I Love My Dad (2022)

For those of us who have yet to (or have no desire to) raise a child, it’s hard to imagine if that child just stopped all communication with you. That idea gets taken to an extreme in “I Love My Dad,” a father-son comedy that trades dressing up in prosthetics and padding as an old nanny for a catfishing scheme that begins out of love but is actually selfish and cruel to the core. Call it “Mrs. Doubtfire” for the digital age, and what’s more, it becomes absolutely, positively awkward to watch for ourselves.

This situation must have been traumatic for James Morosini, the writer, director, and co-lead behind the film, which is based on Morosini’s true experience with his father. As the opening primer mentions, “the following actually happened…my dad asked me to tell you it didn’t.” Making a movie about a story that really happened is not automatically interesting or worthwhile, but it must have been cathartic for Morosini. For the viewer, “I Love My Dad” is unquestionably one of the most uncomfortable films about a father-son relationship in recent memory, and yes, that is a compliment.

Patton Oswalt, in deadbeat mode, plays Chuck Green, a divorced dad who hasn’t seen his adult son Franklin (James Morosini) in a year. One reason for that is Chuck living in Maine, and another being that Franklin has been taking care of himself in rehab after attempting suicide. Once Franklin is back home with his mother (Amy Landecker), he sets boundaries, ignoring his dad’s phone calls and blocking him on social media. Chuck gets the idea (thanks to an innocent conversation with a friend and co-worker, played by Lil Rel Howery) to make a fake account and stay in touch with his son. But first, Chuck finds the profile of Becca (Claudia Sulewski)—the pretty, charismatic young waitress who served him once at a Maine diner—and uses some of her real photos for his fake account. Caught at a vulnerable time in his life, Franklin accepts Fake Becca’s friend request on Facebook and, well, Chuck goes too far.

“I Love My Dad” doesn’t sound like a horror movie by its title, but how this material unfolds is (intentionally) cringe-inducing in the extreme. Proving to the viewer that this absurd, extended act of deception did actually happen, sophomore filmmaker James Morosini still makes sure the actions and emotions always ring true. Always willing to go to sad and dark places in feature films (like "Big Fan" and "Young Adult"), Patton Oswalt’s fearless, high-wire performance is a big reason this story is able to survive the plausibility test and not just make Chuck a monstrous, unsympathetic liar. (We can forgive the times that Franklin, when back in Maine with Chuck, never seems to hear his dad’s phone vibrate as soon as Franklin sends off a text message to “Becca.”) Even when Chuck tries getting his kinky boss and girlfriend Erica (Rachel Dratch) involved in the scheme, she at least knows when a moral line is being crossed.

Deftly and affectionately told by a key participant in this so-crazy-it-has-to-be-true story, “I Love My Dad” somehow keeps threading the needle between pure discomfort and tenderness. It also never forgets what major consequences could follow when the other shoe drops (after all, Franklin is still in recovery for attempted suicide). On paper, telling a story that's so heavy on an ongoing conversation through text messages wouldn’t seem to allow room for much visual interest. Fortunately, Morosini is clever enough to get a lot of mileage out of one simple visual device, where Franklin imagines Becca talking to him in person. At a certain point right before Franklin may receive some deflating news, he imagines Becca walking on water, like she’s the perfect idea of a dream girl, played charmingly by Claudia Sulewski. The creepy reality is also captured when the catfishing scheme finally clicks, Franklin's imagination of making out with Becca juxtaposed with Franklin making out with...his dad. For what feels like a car crash happening in slow motion, “I Love My Dad” is thorny, funny, and compulsively compelling even when watching through splayed fingers. It’ll be impossible to turn away — and not squirm.

Grade: B

Magnolia Pictures is releasing “I Love My Dad” (96 min.) in theaters August 5, 2022 and on digital August 12, 2022.