“I Love My Dad” has two things going for it: 1.) An irresistible premise and 2.) Patton Oswalt. Writer-director-star James Morosini’s black comedy doesn’t do enough with the former, but Oswalt’s fully committed lead performance spackles over some of the bare spots.
“I Love My Dad,” which I originally saw at the SXSW Film Festival, opens Friday at Marcus Point, and begins streaming Aug. 12 on video-on-demand.
Oswalt plays Chuck, the estranged father of a troubled adult son named Franklin (played by Morosini). Franklin has just checked out of a mental health facility after a suicide attempt and is determined to get his life together.
That involves cutting out Chuck from his life. Since Franklin was a kid, Chuck has been emotionally and physically absent, subjecting his son to a never-ending stream of excuses and rationalizations. Morosini’s screenplay never really explains why Chuck has been AWOL for so much of Chuck’s life, which is frustrating. But Oswalt excels at playing someone who doesn’t realize he’s the villain of the story, thinking of himself as a well-meaning guy who swears he’ll do better next time.
When Franklin blocks Chuck on social media, Chuck gets the idea of “catfishing” him — creating a fake profile of a beautiful woman named Becca (Claudi Sulewski) and sending him a friend request. Apparently, Morosini’s real father actually did this to him, and gave him the idea for the movie. Thanks Dad?
Chuck hopes to use the “Becca” persona to find out what his son is up to. But Franklin falls hard for his new internet friend, and soon Chuck finds himself in the uncomfortable position of online flirting with his own son. Morosini dramatizes their conversations by having Franklin imagine Becca being physically in the room with him, then cutting to an anguished Chuck trying to figure out what to text next on his phone.
Morosini gets some cringe-inducing laughs out of Chuck’s predicament. But as the relationship escalates into (ugh) sexting, the film seems more interested in seeing how far it can go with the premise, rather than using it to find something interesting to say along the way about parents and children.
Oswalt throws his all into his performance, eager to showcase the worst aspects of Chuck’s nature while seeing if he can hang onto the audience’s sympathy. Rachel Dratch (as Chuck’s girlfriend) and Lil Rev Howley (as Chuck’s co-worker) deliver funny supporting performances, although Amy Landecker is barely used as Franklin’s mom.
But of the multiple hats that Morosini wears, his actor’s hat is the one that fits the least. His one-note morose performance is further hurt by the fact that the 32-year-old filmmaker is at least a decade too old for the part. In fact, seeing him in a role meant for a 22-year-old, I felt like I was the one being catfished.