I Love My Dad begins with “The following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn’t.” It’s easy to understand why, as the film is based on the experiences of writer-director-star James Morosini, who was catfished by his own father in his attempt to reconnect with his son, which is as uncomfortable as one would think.
Patton Oswalt plays Chuck, the aforementioned father who has always found excuses not to spend time with his son, Franklin (Morosini). When Chuck discovers that his son has blocked him on social media and blocked his calls, Chuck gets desperate and makes a fake social media profile, claiming to be Becca (Claudia Sulewski), a young woman that works at a restaurant Chuck frequents.
Meanwhile, Franklin recently attempted suicide and while it’s never explained what led Franklin down this path, it seems to be a combination of loneliness and the possible abandonment of his father. When Franklin gets a friend request from Becca and the two begin talking, Franklin finally sees a spark of joy in his life. As Franklin and “Becca” get closer through their conversations, Franklin asks Chuck to drive him to meet his dream girl, which can only mean trouble for Chuck.
I Love My Dad gives Oswalt an opportunity to give his most layered performance since his lead role in 2009’s Big Fan. As Chuck, Oswalt plays this father as someone who has made too many excuses and told too many lies, and now, instead of reckoning with the consequences of his actions over years, goes way too far in the other direction to course correct. Through Morosoni’s story, it’s clear that Chuck has the best intentions in this misguided plan, as he continues to dig himself deeper and deeper in uncomfortable and often hilarious ways.
Morosoni brings to life the conversations between Franklin and “Becca”/Chuck by showing how Franklin views his conversations with Becca, as she appears in the scene, a flesh-and-blood person that returns Franklin’s affections. This choice makes for some of the most stylistically inventive choices in I Love My Dad, as these scenes allow us to see Becca through Franklin’s eyes and understand why he would engage in such a relationship, but also shows bits and pieces of Chuck coming through in these conversations. Sulewski is also fantastic in blurring the lines between Franklin’s dream girl and Chuck’s lens into his son’s life.
But it’s the inherent strangeness of I Love My Dad that keeps the audience at arm’s length. Chuck’s actions are clearly done out of his own selfishness and desperation—and the film never tries to warrant his actions or redeem his choices—and yet, it’s also hard to feel sympathy for this character who is pushing his son who already has his own existing issues to deal with. In Chuck’s attempt to get closer to his son than ever before, he’s also trivializing the mental health of the son he claims to love.
Yet the ickiness of I Love My Dad’s story and the extreme murkiness of these decisions is never ignored. Chuck’s coworker (Lil Rel Howery) explains his disappointment in all their scenes together, while Chuck’s girlfriend (Rachel Dratch) becomes part of Chuck’s scheme and is rightfully outraged by the situation. Again, Morosoni never attempts to rehabilitate our view of Chuck, which is certainly for the best considering the story at hand, but it’s also hard to fully embrace the narrative that is as uncomfortable and odd as this one. In many ways, I Love My Dad can often make the audience feel like Franklin, uncertain of how to approach his father, agonizing over just how much to let this man in, and struggling to balance these two impulses at once.
But I Love You Dad has its heart in the right place with its cringey narrative and story of how much forgiveness those who love us truly deserve. Oswalt gets another solid role he can sink his teeth into, and Morosoni proves himself an interesting new writer-director to watch. I Love My Dad is an uncomfortable journey, but it’s one with the best of intentions.