NBFF Review: James Morosini’s Weird Past Is A Hilariously Heartfelt Dramedy In ‘I Love My Dad’
After the words “The following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn’t.” flash across the screen viewers get their first glimpse of the lead as Chuck (Patton Oswalt of Young Adult and Ratatouille delivering another heartfelt and hilarious performance) finds a puppy in the park while on a walk with his son Franklin. He’s seen ripping down a lost dog poster as he and his unaware son pass by it on their way back home with the animal, instantly painting a picture of the relationship (or in many ways lack thereof) that’s about to unfold across the film. The opening credits immediately follow, backed by numerous apology messages spanning the majority of Franklin’s childhood that convey just how absent Chuck became from his son’s life while also revealing his separation from Franklin’s mother. Fast forward to an older Franklin (James Morosini putting in a nuanced performance while serving as the director and writer who this REALLY happened to) in the middle of his final group rehab meeting following an attempt at taking his own life. He mentions to the others that he “took some steps at setting healthy boundaries by blocking his father online” and on the way home with his mother Diane (Amy Landecker of A Serious Man and Dan in Real Life) he’s already dodging calls from his suspicious dad.
After bringing it up to his co-worker Jimmy (Lil Rel Howery of Get Out and Bad Trip serving as a comedic voice of reason throughout) who mentions catfishing an ex once to keep tabs on them, Chuck gets the terrible idea to do the same to his son. Later that evening he meets a waitress named Becca (influencer turned actress Claudia Sulewski of Deadcon, holding her own opposite the leads) while crying in a diner and decides this will be his new online identity. The situation then becomes almost immediately as awkward as you expect it to and escalates for the remainder of the film to great effect. Whether it’s Chuck secretly involving his own girlfriend Erica (the always funny Rachel Dratch of Click) or Franklin’s memorably awful sexting techniques, there’s few moments in I Love My Dad where you’ll feel comfortable and it’s entirely intentional.
Morosini (much like Emma Seligman with Shiva Baby) wants viewers to cringe while they laugh so he opts for darkly humorous dialogue and delivery that does exactly what it’s supposed to. Furthermore, what could’ve been very boring text-based interactions between the characters is elevated here by the fact that during scenes where they’re exchanging messages, the perceived online identities are actually present in the room having the conversation with the characters instead. For example Franklin sees Becca when he’s messaging the fake profile that his father is controlling, but Chuck sees Franklin talking back to him since he’s not being tricked. This is an extremely clever way to convey the simultaneous emotions the respective parties feel while also leading to some hilarious split reactions to many of the situations, not to mention this approach is simply far more engaging than messages rolling across the screen.
The takes are long when it matters and tight when they need to be, making for a very even balance of comedy and drama that compliment one another well due to the smart pacing boasted across the film’s ninety-six minute runtime. The acting is solid across the board as is the direction which never feels phoned in or aimless, respectively. Mileage here will mainly vary in how viewers feel about the central relationship by the end (specifically regarding Chuck’s role) but you’re never asked to forgive anyone and it’s compelling enough that most will look into the real story, where any such qualms will likely be put to rest if they do exist. James Morosini boldly spins his awkward family history into a film that’ll help us all feel more comfortable with our own: not only a huge creative risk but also displaying a level of personal vulnerability that’s few and far between. You can embrace this weird, relatable family for yourself in select theaters now or in the comfort of your own home when I Love My Dad releases to VOD on August 12.