I Love My Dad review: Patton Oswalt fishes out his son
“The following really happened,” insists the epigraph of I love my father. For laughs and for good measure, more words follow: “My dad asked me to tell you it wasn’t.” Veracity is one of the main hooks in this squeaky, tenderly awkward comedy from writer-director-star James Morosini, which tells a true story of a parental deception so deeply flawed and questionably well-meaning that it only worsens the nauseous fascination. Of course, the promise that everything you see is based on real events is also an invisible shield, isn’t it? Regardless of the extent of the fiction, labeling a story as true helps deflect any potential complaints about material that rings false or might otherwise inspire skepticism. And I love my father have a few.
To hear Morosini tell it, he was 19 when he fell for an elaborate internet ruse. The culprit: his father, here nicknamed Chuck and played by stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt. At the start of the film, Franklin (Morosini as a younger version of himself) is so fed up with Chuck’s lies and excuses and general inability to be where he promises he will be that he’s completely cut her divorced father out of her life, blocking all methods of telephone and social media contact.
Chuck, a middle-aged office drone who now lives in another state, panics that he might finally have used all his second chances. And so, in his desperation, he does something very stupid: he essentially clones the Facebook page of Becca (Claudia Sulewski), a waitress at his local restaurant, and sends a friend request to her son, pretending to be a pretty young stranger to find a window on her life. Unfortunately, Franklin strikes up a conversation and the lie quickly spirals out of control. Before he knows it, Chuck is catfishing his own smitten boy, who falls for “Becca”, completely unaware of who he’s really flirting with on his cell phone.
Morosini, to his credit, shows little reluctance to bask in the exquisite discomfort of this scenario. Needless to say, perhaps the looming threat of sexting eventually rears its ugly head, and the outrageous central sequence built around it – a sort of miniature crude comedy, taking place on both sides of a hotel bath – aims for both shock and compassion. This I love my father racked up audience awards at a few film festivals suggests that Morosini threaded that needle for audiences and inspired the two.
His savviest stylistic choice is to drop Sulewski’s Becca into the frame with him during their text exchanges, visualizing their conversations while irl crashes. This not only allows Morosini to abandon the non-cinematic image of two people typing messages on their devices. It also allows him to present the imaginary version of Becca that Chuck proposes as a moving illusion. At all times, we see Franklin’s idealized fantasy of the woman he thinks he’s talking to, even as we think of the fiber above her head behind her, spouting her own words into someone’s mouth. other as a virtual ventriloquist.
Oswalt, in perhaps his best big-screen performance since Big fan, offers a layered depiction of wildly misdirected fatherly love in a train wreck rip-off. He never lets us forget that Chuck’s subterfuge is a careless betrayal that can’t end well. (The fact that he continues to have “Becca” prompts Franklin to forgive him reveals a manipulative calculation behind a clumsy scheme that becomes too big to fail.) Yet Oswalt also keeps Chuck’s motivation front and center, an emotional beacon: he’s just a reckless father terrified of losing his son. The sympathy the actor elicits for a character who arguably doesn’t deserve it offsets Morosini’s slightly more shaky turn in the lead, a role he’s a bit old for in his early 30s. (Fortunately, it’s not grotesque, Dear Evan Hansen-level stretch.)
So is it rude to complain that the storyline relies a bit too much on its characters making very stupid decisions? Franklin comes across as America’s most gullible teenager at times, only pausing briefly to wonder why he’s the only Facebook friend of this stranger who followed him out of the blue, refuses to video chat with him and coincidentally works right next to his father. . (If all of this is true, Morosini clearly needed a wake-up call from the Catfish boys.) Chuck, meanwhile, proves to be incredibly careless in covering his tracks; the film’s third act hinges on a mistake so conveniently huge it boggles the mind. Again, this is behavior we can only accept because it is supposed to be grounded in fact.
Then again, perhaps the errors of meaning are just some kind of unspoken pact, forged between a son pathologically unable to see the truth that is right in front of him and a father pathologically determined to “accidentally” reveal that truth. The deeper and stranger implication of I love my father is that Chuck finds a roundabout way to finally provide emotional support for his son. That’s what Franklin really responds to in his fake romance with Becca: the unconscious recognition of his father on the other end of the line, finally there for him.
Nevertheless, there is something a little too orderly I love my father. It would benefit from a more thorny, not-so-readable outcome than a magnanimous tribute to the very man whose big lie inspired the movie. Is poetic license to blame for the sharpness of the ending? Or should Morosini have wielded some of it to give the faithfully reproduced events a little more edge? Anyway, if you buy that’s full emotional truth of the really bizarre experience he’s dramatizing, so wow, do we have a facebook bridge to sell you.
I love my father opens in select theaters August 5 and hits digital streaming rental services August 12. For more articles on AA Dowd, please visit its Authory page.