Whether you can enjoy “I Love My Dad” depends on how far your tolerance for the ol’ “boys will be boys” adage goes. And since the screening I attended saw a raucous amount of applause after the movie ended, many are willing to stretch this concept quite far.
It’s hard to get too upset, since the boy – or more accurately, manchild – in question is Chuck, played by Patton Oswalt, whose charm is renowned for its legendary proportions. And the situation in “I Love My Dad” is a hell of a lot more fun when it’s not happening to you.
Chuck is the kind of charming, well-meaning guy who has so consistently failed to show up in his son Franklin’s (James Morosini) life that he has cut him out of it just as Chuck’s concern for Franklin has understandably ramped up. Franklin recently attempted suicide, and he sees blocking his father as a healthy choice, part of a fresh start. It’s not exactly difficult to disagree, even as we feel Chuck’s pain at just not knowing where his son stands at such a dangerously vulnerable point.
When his co-worker Jimmy (Lil Rel Howery) casually mentions how he created an entirely new page so he could still check out his ex’s profile, Chuck decides to do the same. Taking inspiration from a pretty young waitress at a nearby restaurant, he uses her name and photos to create an online presence that a lonely young kid would eat up: all of the easy intimacy, none of the risks of a real life interaction. It doesn’t take long for the fake Becca (Claudia Sulewski) to take on a life of her own, becoming Franklin’s very own Cool Girl.
That “I Love My Dad” leans so much into Chuck and Franklin’s perspective is hardly astonishing, since it’s based on director-writer-lead Morosini’s experiences of his own father accidentally catfishing him in a desperate attempt to reconnect. He gives his parental stand-in Chuck quite a bit of leeway, even as Chuck refuses to reveal Becca’s true identity until he’s forced to, despite multiple people sometimes literally screaming at him to come clean.
Above all else, things are kept sitcom light, which means that the movie never investigates the deeper truths lurking just beneath the surface, such as how men project their deepest yearnings and desires onto women, and how it so often means they pay the heaviest price. And Chuck’s girlfriend Erica (Rachel Dratch, who at least gets some funny shit to do), his ex-wife (Amy Landecker), and of course, the real Becca, all pay for Chuck’s lie along with Franklin, with their conversations, image, and peace of mind all fair game for Chuck.
Even at the film’s end, which sees Franklin reaping a few benefits from his father’s actions, catharsis comes at the expense of the parent who has been the most consistent and loving in Franklin’s life. Morosini has gained enough comic chops to ensure that most audiences will laugh rather than shudder at this last development in yet another stranger-than-fiction tale which withholds its harsh truths, and that he pulls this off so successfully is doubtless an indicator of a filmmaker at the cusp of a long career.
Boys will be boys.