Writer and Director: James Morosini
Based upon a real-life incident I Love My Dad demonstrates truth is both stranger and more embarrassing than fiction.
Chuck (Patton Oswalt) is a dysfunctional father having missed all the milestones in the life of his son, Franklin (writer/ director James Morosini) and being incapable of accepting any form of responsibility. Franklin, depressed and recovering from a suicide attempt, is living with, and under the supervision of, his mother, and resolves to cut ties with his dad by blocking him on social media. To maintain some form of contact with his son Chuck befriends him online using a false persona he creates using the name and the online photos of a waitress at his local diner, Becca (Claudia Sulewski). The scam works better than expected, giving Franklin a purpose in life but his efforts to pursue the relationship with Becca push Chuck to greater extremes. Even when Franklin plots to meet the fictional Becca in person Chuck cannot admit the truth as sharing the car journey to the proposed rendezvous offers him the chance to mend fences and bond with his son in person.
James Morosini is an efficient storyteller establishing the personalities of the main characters early in the film. A pre-credits sequence illustrates the duplicitous nature of Chuck and the anxious personality of Franklin, and the credits roll with a series of telephone messages from the former apologising for yet another parental failure.
Morosini does not let the film become a static study of characters sat at their computers sending messages. The various texts, including typographical errors, are spoken or acted out by the characters with Claudia Sulewski giving a very appealing performance as the emotional support for which Franklin is desperate. The approach also develops a fine comedy of embarrassment with Patton Oswalt and James Morosini physically acting out the steamy sexual text messages.
The attitude of the film towards women is hardly enlightened. Becca is acknowledged as a male fantasy figure to the extent at one point she walks on water. Chuck shamelessly manipulates his girlfriend into taking part in the scam without her consent. Even the ambiguous conclusion, which could be an act of revenge or reconciliation, is played out without thought for the impact upon the woman involved.
Patton Oswalt is usually relegated to supporting roles and clearly relishes the opportunity to go deeper and darker. Oswalt plays Chuck as someone whose default action is dishonesty; even after he has successfully bonded with Franklin, by simply behaving like a father and offering non-critical advice on driving, he reverts to type and continues the falsehood. Oswalt’s starkly honest approach to such a dishonest character raises questions as to the extent to which Chuck is motivated by the need to satisfy his own ego as much as trying to help his son. In a darkly funny sequence Chuck, in the online form of Becca, tries to persuade Franklin he really ought to prefer his dad to his mum.
The character of Franklin is less well-developed. James Morosini underplays Franklin to the extent he remains enigmatic. No background information is given about the cause of his depression and suicide attempt and the impact of ‘Becca’ upon Franklin is so profound it makes one wonder whether he has any social or personal life.
Like Chuck, I Love My Dad does not accept the full consequences of the scam. The immediate emotional impact of its cessation is shown but no details are given of how those involved coped afterwards- the scene cuts to some months later after the turmoil has died down which seems a bit of a cheat.
The reluctance to address the full emotional impact of the deception in I Love My Dad limits the power of the movie, but it remains a cringingly funny film with a fine central performance.
I Love My Dad is released on 23rd January.