Reviews of I Love My Dad
I Love My Dad will debut in limited theaters on August 5 and be available on VOD on August 12.
Few recent American indies have executed their quirky proof-of-concept with such imaginative grace. I Love My Father, in which actor-director James Morosini extrapolates from when his current father really the Peach in real life (in the guise of a hot girl), is exactly the kind of intense and sneakily fun adult comedy-drama that has been missing for a few summers. With Patton Oswalt as Morosini’s fictional father, from whose perspective the film is set, it also becomes a bizarre and radical act of cinematic empathy, in which Morosini finds an uncanny understanding and forgiveness. In short, it’s a blast, and deeply significant at that.
While the actual events may not have turned into a borderline thriller, Morosini draws on their basic premise when laying the film‘s foundation. He plays Franklin, a skinny, clumsy young man suffering from severe depression. Oswalt plays Chuck, a longtime helicopter parent who finally realizes it’s time to be there for his son. However, as part of his recovery, Franklin blocks Chuck on all social media and refuses to return his calls. In order to reenter Franklin’s life, Chuck creates a fake Facebook profile of a pretty young woman named Becca, and strikes up a conversation that inadvertently leads to – buckle up! — months of romantic flirtation.
A decade away from these events, Morosini expands on his stranger-than-fiction premise with a sense of inspired speculation. Not only does the film concoct the ride of a real Becca (Claudia Sulewski), a young restaurant waitress whose photos and identity Chuck steals to create her profile, it opens with on-screen text – “ The following actually happened. My father asked me to tell you that was not the case” – implying that no matter how bad things got between Morosini and his father (or in this case, how badly they go unfold between Franklin and Chuck), there is some form of relationship between them on the other side. Whether hopefully or in retrospect, in the moment it might make you wonder what exactly awaits you, but little could prepare you for what unfolds (and, to Morosini’s credit, how they unfold).
By making the film from Chuck’s point of view – reminiscent of Alma Har’el’s honey boy, in which Shia LaBeouf plays a version of his own abusive father – Morosini not only sets up a story of combined lies (a ticking time bomb from which neither father nor son will emerge unscathed), but a story that centers an understanding of why these extravagant events took the form they did. Along the way, Morosini tells what is ultimately a text chat story, but with a sense of tongue-in-cheek immersion. As Franklin talks to the fictional Becca and is drawn in by her looks, the beaming Sulewski appears alongside Morosini, putting a smile on Franklin’s face as they enter into what often feels like a traditional movie romance, full of montages and wordless moments when their eyes meet and their hearts begin to race.
When their texting gets steamy, the human connection fills Franklin’s life with uplifting music and bright, flashing colors – which Morosini immediately undermines in hilariously disturbing ways, going from Franklin’s dream of Becca to an exaggerated version of the point of view of Chuck, without music or visual poetry. Chuck, despite his best efforts, similarly imagines Franklin by his side, and the more he follows his ruse to stay connected, the more he is forced to reluctantly sext his own son. Where the romance between Franklin and fake-Becca is made incredibly real despite the fact that we know the truth, that truth is painted using the most hilarious and awkward interactions between Chuck and a physical manifestation of his smiling son and lovers — intimate scenes and all — practically making Chuck cry, about what he feels he has to do just to be a part of Franklin’s life. “Shockingly funny” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The film’s 90 minutes present an unyielding sense of escalation. With every step Chuck takes to reenter Franklin’s life, new complications threaten to expose him, leading to an even more stupid and risky deception. It’s like someone dropped a piano Asgar Farhadithe head ; what we see unfolding might as well be the cartoon canaries surrounding his concussed temple. All the while, Morosini and editor Josh Crockett maintain a deftly jarring pace, constructing a whiplash-inducing timeline that hits us hard between Franklin’s cinematic conception of romance and Chuck’s jaw-dropping betrayals. The performances also sell that contrast, between Morosini’s heartbreaking vulnerability and the desperation of Oswalt’s subterfuge, as a father who barely holds on as he tries to redeem himself in the most misguided way. However, what ties it all together is the odd twist in Jeremy Bullock’s score, which evokes Jon Brion’s work on love stuffed with punchsupporting the film’s ever-changing mix of sincerity and propulsive dread.
Morosini’s penchant for staging vivid visualizations even extends to crafting backstory, with brief glimpses of Chuck’s past that not only inform his character, but also his morality-bending strategies. as a low level fraudster. That includes, in one particularly tumultuous scene, Chuck using an old online chess trick to string his girlfriend Erica (Rachel Dratch) into the most suggestive parts of his plan. For a time, Chuck’s deception holds out and he’s able to track down Franklin, but when the question of meeting the real Becca finally comes up, the resulting third act is a powder keg.
With a car chase crescendo that builds on the film’s previous hilarity and intensity, I Love My Dad continues to soar and soar until it scratches the stratosphere of comedy thriller. However, all the while, he never loses his laser focus on the bizarre relationship drama at the base, on a rock-bottom son looking for an ounce of affection, and on the deeply misguided attempts of a father to make up for lost time.
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