I LOVE MY DAD (2022)
Release Date: 08/12/22 [Cinemas/VOD]
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
"A hopelessly estranged father catfishes his son in an attempt to reconnect.."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
Following in the footsteps of Lionsgate's The Big Sick, I Love My Dad tells the tale of the Writer-Director’s estranged relationship with his dad and the hijinks that ensued because of his father's attempts to reconnect with his son via online messaging platforms. And it’s easy to see the humour in a story of a father catfishing his son accidentally on purpose. It’s an absurd premise that would be the first ingredient of a Robin Williams movie or a Wes Anderson joint. But where those films find the laughter in the insanity, here, the comedy is largely predicated on the crude implications of the scheme.
Based on the actual events of Writer/Director James Morosini’s life, I Love My Dad tells the tale of Chuck (Patton Oswalt) as he creates a fake Facebook account with the sole purpose of talking to his son, Franklin (James Morosini) when Franklin cuts him out of his life entirely. However, things quickly spiral out of control when Franklin begins to crush on Becca (Claudia Sulewski), the fake Facebook identity that Chuck created.
Casting director Bret August Tanzer deserves a lot of praise for their work on this film. The casting of Patton Oswalt is truly masterful, as only Oswalt could exude the empathetic charisma needed for us to truly care about Chuck in this film. Oswalt’s emotional control is his greatest asset, and here, it shines in every scene. Whether it’s the joy of a road trip with his son, the panic of having his identity revealed to Franklin (his son), or the disgust at what Franklin dreams about with his “online girlfriend”, Oswalt shines bright in each sequence. But it’s not just Oswalt who’s putting on a stellar performance. Director James Morosini is cast in the role of Franklin, and his shy, emotionally distant performance juxtaposes Patton Oswalt fantastically throughout. These two very different performances create the tension that upholds the film's story, and I adore it.
The other truly genius cast member is Claudia Sulewski. Her expertise as an actress shines through in the dual role of Becca. The few scenes we see of the real Becca add depth to her performance as the “imagined” Becca, who is flirtatious, empathetic, and completely created by a young teen who’s battling depression and needs an anchor in real life. In that role, Sulewski reveals the true power of phishing scams, while being captivating to watch on screen.
And this leads me to the best element of I Love My Dad: the usage of cellular devices and messaging conversations. While many films in recent memory have elected to use CG speech bubbles to highlight a text message conversation while adhering to relative realism, I would be remiss if I said I liked any of those sequences. Even Spider-Man: No Way Home’s usage of Facetime video calls felt super awkward to watch, due to how that style cripples the shot composition of any dialogue scene. What I Love My Dad does so well is embrace the artistic, and surreal side of the film to depict the emotional weight of a text message conversation better than any other film to date. This is done by recreating the text messages as a dialogue scene, having our two actors (typically Morosini and Sulewski) act off one another as they give life to the text messages being said. It creates a warm feeling to those false conversations that are expertly manipulated with the film editing and cuts to Chuck as he has to actively catfish his son. These conversations execute a central idea of this film perfectly, and I wish more films would learn to do something similar when integrating a texting conversation into the story.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for I Love My Dad. For as funny and absurd as these conversations become, the punchline frequently devolves into crude humour revolving around sexting your dad. And while that is funny the first time it happens, much of the second act propels into this territory and just left me feeling numb and cringing at the screen. It’s a shame because, in many ways, I found this crude humour to undermine what could have been a stellar PG comedy centred on a real issue for teens in the digital age. This had the potential to be the modern-day Mrs. Doubtfire. But instead, it aimed for a hard R rating that doesn’t feel tonally consistent.
And that sadly reveals the weakest link of this film: its writing. While James Morosini’s acting is great and his direction is consistent, the writing here is just off-putting and awkward. This film comes from an authentic place within his own life, but it comes across as amateur and almost predatory at times. Add in an unfinished scene that’s missing an audio track, and this makes a film that I wish I could recommend but just can’t. There are a lot of great performances and fascinating creative decisions that are worth checking out, but I Love My Dad isn’t a film for everyone.