Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 14th, 2022
I Love My Dad (James Morosini, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
To call James Morosini’s I Love My Dad cringeworthy is a grotesque understatement. Ostensibly based on actual events experienced by the writer/director/star, the movie follows the tragicomic odyssey of college-age Franklin (Morosini, Threesomething) as he is catfished by his own dad. Why would a father do that? Because, as a deadbeat parent, he has for so long disappointed his son that he ends up blocked on social media. Thereby barred from any contact, he sets up a fake online profile, impersonating a young woman who friends Franklin and starts something akin to a virtual relationship. Does that sound unpleasant, but also kind of fascinating? Nailed it!
Patton Oswalt (Sex Madness Revealed) plays Chuck, the villain in question. A capable performer, Oswalt brings out the man’s essential humanity, even as his actions make him evermore reprehensible. What starts out as a desperate ploy to achieve some form of connection with his estranged son becomes increasingly disturbing, especially once the virtual chat turns romantic and then, inevitably, sexual. It’s hard to understand how anyone, much less Franklin, would ever be willing to talk to Chuck again after the truth comes out.
This is particularly true given where the story starts. After an opening scene in which Chuck’s basic duplicity is established, the credits roll, and under them we hear a montage of the many years of disappointing and flaky voicemails Franklin receives while growing up. Cut to the latter, now an adult, in a group-therapy session for those who have attempted suicide. Clinically depressed, he nevertheless returns home with mother Diane (Amy Landecker, Project Power), making the decision to finally cut off all lines to Chuck, who continues to be nothing but bad news. Everything that then occurs does so in this context: suicidal son, narcissistic father making things worse.
So, yes, there’s lots of cringing, and more. But there’s also humor in the writing and performances, and much of the first half of the film evenly balances humor and disgust. Oswalt is perfect in the role, as is Morosini. Real-life influencer Claudia Sulewski stars as Becca, the person whose identity Chuck has stolen for himself. She’s excellent, as well, appearing onscreen whenever Chuck texts Franklin, acting out the messages with Morosini.
Unfortunately, Chuck’s not all that rigorous in his theft, more or less copying directly from Becca’s genuine profile, setting up a final confrontation that is perhaps the hardest thing I have had to watch for a good long while (barring documentaries about atrocities). The fragile Franklin, madly in love, has no place to go but down. It’s brutal, and in this final section Morosini loses control of his tone. Or he wants us to feel terrible, in which case he succeeds brilliantly. It’s just not in line with the twisted comedy of earlier.
Different viewers will react however they will. For me, it was almost a narrative bridge too far, but I stayed with it through clenched fists and squinting eyes. I’m not sure it was worth it, but it held my interest. And there is nothing wrong with swinging for the cinematic fences. That kind of effort is, at the very least, bracing. So is acid in the face. Take your pick.