To no one’s surprise, iconic comedians like Patton Oswalt and Rachel Dratch remain hilarious. The world is changing day-by-day, but there are certain things that will always be funny, and brilliant comics are almost always guaranteed to elicit laughs. They’re paired up in I Love My Dad, a new offering purportedly based on the real-life experiences of writer/director/star James Morosini.
Morosini, recently seen in HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, plays Franklin, the estranged teenage son of Chuck (Oswalt). In a desperate bid to reconnect with his son, who has blocked him on social media, Chuck creates a fake profile of an attractive girl and begins messaging Franklin — thereby catfishing his own son.
The premise is absurd enough, and barely plausible at best, but the result makes it the funniest film of the year thus far. Of course, Chuck’s endeavor has consequences, and playing with the fragile heart of his son (a survivor of a recent suicide attempt) is definitely not a good move. At first, I Love My Dad overshadows the creepiness of the situation with comedy, but as the film progresses, it settles into a definitive groove that confidently balances serious ideas with clever comedic timing.
Chuck’s fake avatar, a waitress named Becca (Claudia Sulewski), appears as a physical representation of who Franklin believes he’s talking to. Their interactions build sympathy for both parties — Franklin is in a very vulnerable position, and the attention he’s getting from “Becca” helps to reinvigorate his mental health; and Chuck is trying to walk the fine line of talking to his son and trying not to let him fall in love with this false identity he’s created.
Saturday Night Live’s Rachel Dratch plays Erica, Chuck’s girlfriend, and her scenes with Oswalt are hysterical to the point that I was nearly crying from laughter. Oswalt is absolutely perfect for his role. He plays off of every scene partner incredibly effectively, whether it be in a dramatic or comedic scene. We recognize that it’s a terrible thing that Chuck is doing for his child (even when it’s played for laughs), but we still allow ourselves to feel sorry for him. This is largely thanks to Oswalt, who has the acting range for every emotion we need to feel.
Early on, you get the sense that this isn’t going to end well. The trajectory of the story is clear, but here the destination isn’t as important as the journey. The inevitable unraveling both kept me on my toes and lulled me into a false sense of security several times. The strongest element of the film, beyond even Morosini’s script and Oswalt’s performance, is the editing by Josh Crockett. It weaves a complex web of tension and elicits the humor within each scene, from a deadpan line delivery to an unexpectedly hilarious reveal.
When a movie makes you stand up, pace around the room and physically feel the tension, you know it’s done its job. I Love My Dad is a surprisingly gripping film from James Morosini, with moments awkward, hilarious and heartbreaking throughout. This is my favorite movie from this year’s South by Southwest festival because it hits every note nearly perfectly, delivering on-the-nose humor and poignant themes that absolutely work for me.
I Love My Dad premiered at SXSW ‘22.