I Love My Dad employs a risky outsized gambit in telling its tale, but it thankfully registers as darkly hilarious and often poignant.
It’s easy to see why James Morosini’s I Love My Dad won the narrative competition at this year’s SXSW. It’s certainly an easy film to like, a crowd-pleaser anchored by an inspired comic performance by Patton Oswalt. But it’s also difficult to watch — for those who are sensitive to uncomfortable comedy or secondhand embarrassment, let it be known that I Love My Dad is a veritable minefield of cringe. And although its premise may seem too ridiculous to be believed, it’s all based on Morosini’s own life.
Working as writer, director, and star, I Love My Dad is clearly very personal for Morosini, and it shows. Playing a version of himself, Morosini stars as Franklin, a clinically depressed young man adrift in life after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Oswalt co-stars as his deadbeat father, a perpetual schlub named Chuck who seemingly has time for everything but his own son, having been habitually absent from Franklin’s life since he was a child. Looking for a fresh start and fed up with his dad’s neverending excuses for not showing up, Franklin blocks his dad’s phone number and all his social media accounts. At a loss, and desperate to make amends, Chuck creates a fake social media profile using photos of a waitress at a local diner and friends Franklin, hoping to find a way to speak with him. But Franklin finds an unexpected connection in this mysterious woman on Facebook — and Chuck has unwittingly catfished his own son, creating an online persona that Franklin finds himself falling in love with.
I Love My Dad is… a lot. But Morosini and Oswalt dive right into the discomfort of the outlandish premise, with the help of Rachel Dratch as Chuck’s perpetually horny girlfriend/boss. The film never attempts to absolve Chuck for the serious lines he crosses here, but there’s also something surprisingly and genuinely endearing about his bumbling attempts to just be a friend to his son. You could call it a 21st-century Mrs. Doubtfire, but it actually more closely resembles a different Robin Williams vehicle, Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad, in its general tenor determination to make audiences squirm as much as possible. Such outsized gambits are exceedingly hit-or-miss, but what makes it all work here is that all the gonzo clearly comes from a place of love, even if it seems destined to be the subject of discourse on Twitter. Despite all the faults and foibles, Morosini seems to be telling the truth in his film’s title, and I Love My Dad registers as a darkly hilarious and often poignant tribute to, if not the man who raised him, then the man who showed up late in the most bizarre possible way.
Originally published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 4.