When I Love My Dad begins, it greets you with the words, “the following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn’t.” Even with that precursor, I don’t think it prepares you for the story you’re about to see on screen. Chuck (Patton Oswalt) compulsively breaks promises and lies to his son, Franklin (James Morosini), at such a clip that Franklin cuts him out of his life. Franklin ignores Chuck’s phone calls, apologizes for his many shortcomings, and does the ultimate “I’m done” move — Franklin blocks Chuck on social media.
Now, with no contact line between him and his estranged son, Chuck gets a crazy idea thrown out flippantly by his co-worker Jimmy (Lil Rey Howery). Why not build a fake profile? Chuck puts his plan in action upon meeting a friendly waitress, Becca (Claudia Sulewski), who talks to him while he’s at his lowest. He builds an entire profile from Becca’s Facebook account and contacts his son this way. Yes, he’s catfishing his son to contact him. What? I Love My Dad is an actual true story inspired by events in writer/director/actor James Morosini’s life.
When you meet Franklin, he’s clinically depressed and just graduated from a mental health facility. Diane (Amy Landecker), his mother, wants the best for him, and the all-out blocking is a way for Franklin to make clear boundaries to insulate him from disappointment. Out of the blue, he gets a message from “Becca.” Despite obvious red flags (her profile only has one friend), he goes along with it. The audience will wince and cringe at some scenarios in I Love My Dad — and the film is well aware. It leans into all the black comedy situations it can compact into an hour and a half run time. If one is wondering how a teen could slip into a pitfall of an imaginary person, look no further than 2010’s Catfish and the subsequent MTV show offshoot.
Franklin’s character is believably shy and wants to believe a beautiful girl could be interested in him. Morosini uses a device where characters envision the person they are talking to in messages to have a physical presence — at least in their minds. As this goes on, Franklin comes out of his shell, bit by bit. However, you can’t help but think of the cringe nature of who is on the other side of the screen. Chuck may be well-intentioned, but this is actively deceiving his son, who he knows has mental health problems. But he’s willing to do what he has to do to regain a semblance of parenthood at all costs.
As I Love My Dad goes on, Chuck’s lie catches those around him in its hurricane-force wins. Jimmy tells him to call it off numerous times. His boss/kinky talking romantic partner Erica (Rachel Dratch) gets involved in a hilarious situation, digging a hole deeper for Chuck. One of the most stomach-turning scenes comprises a sexting situation, and you wonder why a father would go so far to keep this charade going? Indeed, there’s no way for this to end well and will make an even more immense emotional chasm between father and son. It’s the acting of Oswalt and Morosini that keeps the film on an emotional axis.
Whenever you are done with Chuck’s constant lying or penchant to use people, there’s a stroke of honesty that keeps you on the hook. In the end, he wants to be a better father; he goes at it in an alarming way. At its conclusion, I Love My Dad will give you a lot to ponder, and it depends on how much grace you’re willing to extend a patriarchal soul seeking redemption. Could a person who does something like this ever be forgiven, and will the subject ever recover from the mental turmoil of love being an avatar? Morosini doesn’t spell it out, especially given the cyberstalking aspect. With all things considered, intent may be more impactful.
Photo Credit: HANTZ MOTION PICTURES