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‘I Love My Dad’: When father doesn’t know best

With the best of, uh, intentions, a father catfishes his son in this film starring Patton Oswalt and writer-director James Morosini

Patton Oswalt, left, and James Morosini in "I Love My Dad."Magnolia Pictures

Just so there isn’t any doubt, “I Love My Dad” begins with these words: “The following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it actually didn’t.” After seeing the movie, you can understand why he might ask.

Chuck (Patton Oswalt) is seriously estranged from his son, Franklin (James Morosini, who also wrote and directed). They’re so estranged that Franklin has blocked Chuck on his social media and smartphone.

Chuck has long had a rocky relationship with his son. Being hopelessly unreliable and a compulsive liar will have that effect. Still, Chuck wants to be back in touch — not least of all because Franklin, who’s in his late teens or early 20s, recently attempted suicide. He’s living at home (in Waltham, where Morosini grew up) with his mother, Diane (Amy Landecker). She’s divorced from Chuck — no surprise there — who now lives in Maine.


“Father-son stuff is tricky sometimes,” Chuck confides in a voice-over. Or as Jeremy Irons’s Claus von Bulow says in “Reversal of Fortune,” discussing his own strangeness, “You have no idea.” Chuck decides he’ll catfish Franklin, not that that’s the term he uses. He’ll create an online identity and send his son a friend request. “Lying to your son isn’t going to get you closer to him!” Chuck’s girlfriend, Erica (Rachel Dratch), tells him. “Well, it might,” he replies. Oh, that Chuck, he’s a bit of a dreamer. It’s just that the dreams turn into nightmares for everyone else.

Claudia Sulewski and James Morosini in "I Love My Dad."Magnolia Pictures

For the online identity, Chuck uses the name and appropriates the photos of Becca (Claudia Sulewski), a personable young waitress at a diner near where Chuck lives. Becca, who knows nothing about this, is also quite attractive. Can you see where this is going? Chuck can’t.

Franklin is smitten; and let’s just say that the film’s title takes on a whole new meaning. The chats are enacted. That is, the viewer sees Franklin and Becca acting out the words that Franklin and Chuck are typing. It’s a canny move, visually, though it sure does raise the cringe level.


From left, Lil Rel Howery, James Morosini, and Patton Oswalt in "I Love My Dad."Magnolia Pictures

Enacting is one thing when Franklin and Becca are messaging about dogs or gaming. It’s altogether another when they’re flirting and, you know, more than flirting. An aghast co-worker (a relatively subdued Lil Rel Howery) offers a wise and not-inaccurate observation: “Chuck, this is incest!” The movie’s big set piece is an extended sexting scene that’s avert-your-eyes gruesome.

Or roll-on-the floor hilarious? Last March, audiences at South by Southwest apparently saw hilarity. “I Love My Dad” made a big splash, winning two awards. The presence in the cast of Oswalt, Dratch, and Howery would indicate the movie is a comedy. “Dad” has such an oddball, audacious premise that it could conceivably have worked as go-for-broke farce. Imagine a Kevin Hart or Jim Carrey as Chuck. But that would obliterate the movie’s serious side (remember Franklin’s attempted suicide?), and the serious side takes precedence. Serious and silly can certainly coexist. It happens in politics all the time. It doesn’t here.

Patton Oswalt, left, and James Morosini in "I Love My Dad."Magnolia Pictures

Emotionally, the movie is a mess. It can be even messier tonally. As storytelling, though, “Dad” moves right along. Viewers may look away at times, but they don’t look at their watches. Something as simple as enacting the texts shows Morosini’s alertness to movie mechanics. This is the second feature he’s directed. “Threesome” came out in 2018. “Dad” won’t be his last. And if he casts himself again, that would make sense. Morosini, who’s done a lot of TV acting, has a nice screen presence. It helps that he looks like a young Javier Bardem, only lean and wary. If Becca’s mother had catfished her, Becca might well have . . . oh, never mind..




Written and directed by James Morosini. Starring Morosini, Patton Oswalt, Claudia Sulewski, Lil Rel Howery, Rachel Dratch, Amy Landecker. At Kendall Square and Somerville. 96 minutes. R (sexual content, language).

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.