In I Love My Dad, inspired by actual events involving the writer/director James Morosini and his father, Patton Oswalt plays Chuck, a father who catfishes his own estranged son, Franklin (Morosini), in an effort to bond with him.
It’s a simple premise. Franklin — who recently attempted to take his own life — blocks his father on social media after years of unreliable parenting. Chuck never shows up, he lies, and he always has an excuse, and Franklin wants to cut that toxic presence out of his life. But Franklin genuinely does love his son, and he’s devasted when Franklin blocks him on social media. Inspired by an idea from his co-worker, Jimmy (Lil Rel Howery), Chuck creates a new social media profile using the picture of an attractive woman, “Becca” (Claudia Sulewski), with only the intention of spying on his son.
Suspicious because Becca has no other “friends,” Franklin chats “her” up, and things slowly — and then quickly — unfold from there. Franklin and Becca hit it off, and before Chuck can control the situation, he’s in a full-on virtual sexual relationship with his own son. Chuck’s not happy about the turn of events, but considering his son’s suicidal tendencies, he’s reluctant to call it off. Eventually, Franklin decides he wants to meet “Becca” in person, and Chuck agrees to drive him, which leads to an impossibly awkward road trip between a father and his estranged son, with whom he is sexting in the bathroom of their motel room.
The cringe comedy in I Love My Dad — which won the Jury and Audience award at SXSW this year — is tolerable at first, but it’s clear to everyone that Chuck is eventually going to have to come clean with his son, and the cringiness in the last 20 minutes of the film is downright hostile. I had to stop myself from hitting the fast-forward button because I couldn’t bear to see how the reveal would unfold, and it is every bit as awkward and unpleasant as you might imagine.
That doesn’t make it a bad movie. Far from it. It’s entertaining as hell, and the competing dynamics between morbid curiosity and mortification propel the viewer along, determined to see how it unfolds, but from behind their hands. That it is so hard to watch but also impossible to look away from is a testament to Morosini’s writing and direction, which strikes a chord similar to the Robin Williams/Bobcat Goldthwait black comedy World’s Greatest Dad. Like a Nathan Fielder series, there also comes with the viewing experience a certain satisfaction in being able to push forward and withstand the cringe and arrive at the darkly sweet ending. It’s good — punctuated by some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments from the scene-stealing Howery — but it’s certainly not for everyone.
I Love My Dad is currently in select theaters and available digitally.