Amy Landecker, Claudia Sulewski, film festivals, I Love My Dad, James Morosini, Lil Rel Howery, movies, Patton Oswalt, Rachel Dratch, reviews, Seamus Callahan, South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW Film Festival
March 16, 2022
by Carla Hay
“I Love My Dad”
Directed by James Morosini
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city and in Augusta, Maine, the comedy film “I Love My Dad” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A divorced father, who is a pathological liar, tries to reconnect with his estranged, young adult son by creating a fake online profile where the father impersonates a woman who pretends to be romantically interested in the son.
Culture Audience: “I Love My Dad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in quirky comedies that have incisive social commentary on “catfishing” (creating a fake online persona to deceive people) and dysfunctional family relationships.
Inspired by a true story, “I Love My Dad” is the type of comedy that adeptly turns its most cringeworthy moments into its funniest moments. It’s not an easy challenge, considering that it’s a movie that will make many viewers uncomfortable. “I Love My Dad” has a double meaning, because it’s about a divorced father who pretends to be an attractive young woman online, so that he can lure his estranged son into an online emotional relationship. It’s all because this disturbed father is so desperate to reconnect with his son, he’s concocted this elaborate ruse, even if he knows it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s the type of warped story that people might think could only be fabricated for a movie. However, it happened in real life to “I Love My Dad” writer/director James Morosini, who also stars as the hapless and beleaguered son in this movie. “I Love My Dad” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, where it won the event’s top grand jury prize: Best Narrative Feature. As messy as the movie’s subject is, it’s also a wild and entertaining ride that’s made all the more poignant because it’s a deeply personal story.
“I Love My Dad” opens with a flashback scene of Chuck Green (played by Patton Oswalt) and his son Franklin Green (played by Seamus Callahan), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, taking home a stray black Labrador retriever that they found on the street. Eager to please his son, Chuck tells Franklin (who has no siblings) that they can keep the dog, which is male. Franklin asks, “What if he’s lost?” Chuck just shrugs.
As Chuck and Franklin walk home together with the dog, Chuck sees a “missing dog” flyer posted on a telephone pole. The dog in the flyer’s photo is the same dog that Chuck has taken, and the owner wants to find the dog. Out of Franklin’s sight and without any guilt, Chuck tears the flyer off the pole because he wants to keep the dog. It’s an indication of Chuck’s personality: impulsive, wanting immediate gratification, and very selfish.
The movie then fast-forwards to showing Franklin in his early 20s. His parents have been divorced for years, and Franklin is in therapy for anxiety and depression—mostly because his irresponsible and unreliable father Chuck has caused a lot of emotional damage to Franklin. Chuck is a chronic liar whose dishonesty was the main cause for the divorce.
Franklin is a misfit loner who lives with his mother Diane (played by Amy Landecker), who is very protective and concerned about Franklin’s mental health. Franklin is currently unemployed, but his dream job is to be a computer coder for a video game company. He spends a lot of time playing video games. The movie doesn’t mention where Franklin and Diane live, but it’s thousands of miles away from Chuck. Diane has not been in regular contact with Chuck for a long time—and she wants it to stay that way.
Meanwhile, Chuck (who lives in Augusta, Maine) is despondent because Franklin, whom he has not spoken to in about a year, has recently blocked Chuck from all of Franklin’s social media. Chuck is sulking about it at his office job (the movie never mentions what Chuck does for a living), and his mopey attitude is noticed by a co-worker named Jimmy (played by Lil Rel Howery). Jimmy asks Chuck why he looks so sad, and Chuck tells him about Franklin’s online snubbing.
Jimmy mentions to Chuck that when he was blocked online by an ex-girlfriend, all he had to do to continue following her on social media was to create a phony online persona and get on her online “friends” list again. Jimmy brags that the trick worked, and he was able to keep tabs on what this ex-girlfriend was doing. It’s an idea that Chuck takes to extremes.
Shortly after getting cut off from Jimmy, Chuck goes to eat by himself at a local diner called Carl’s Kountry Kitchen. (“I Love My Dad” was filmed in New York state, and the movie includes the real Carl’s Kountry Kitchen, which is in Syracuse, New York.) Chuck’s server is a friendly young woman in her early 20s named Becca (played by Claudia Sulewski), who has a “girl next door” attractiveness about her.
When Chuck goes home, he looks up Becca on the Internet and finds all of her social media. And that’s when he gets the idea to pretend to be Becca and contact Franklin. Chuck steals Becca’s identity and many of her online photos to create fake online profiles of her. When Franklin accepts the fake Becca’s friend requests, Franklin asks her during a chat why he’s the only person she’s following.
As the fake Becca, Chuck quickly comes up with an excuse that “Becca” has new accounts because she deleted her previous accounts when she took a break from social media. Franklin believes this excuse. Over time, Franklin and “Becca” get closer, as they open up to each other about their emotions and family problems. And it should come as no surprise that Franklin ends up falling for “Becca,” as Chuck gets more caught up in this elaborate and twisted masquerade.
Chuck is ecstatic that Franklin is talking to Chuck again, even though it’s all based on Chuck’s concocted lies. Chuck confides in his co-worker Jimmy about the fake online persona. Jimmy warns Chuck not to continue this deception because Franklin might permanently cut Chuck out of Franklin’s life if Franklin finds out the truth. Chuck ignores this advice because he’s self-centered and has become accustomed to lying to get what he wants.
One of the funniest aspects of “I Love My Dad” is how it shows Becca appearing to exist in person with Franklin when he’s chatting with her online or having fantasies about her. But then, the camera suddenly switches to the reality that Chuck is talking to Franklin, so Chuck is shown doing the things with Franklin that Franklin is simultaneously imagining that Becca is doing with Franklin. This switch of perspectives is cleverly edited to bring many of laugh-out-loud moments for people watching the movie. Chuck has fantasies too, where he places himself in moments where he wants to emotionally bond with Franklin.
Franklin knows that “Becca” doesn’t live near him, but he eventually wants some kind of contact with her beyond words and photos on a screen. When he tries to set up an online video chat, “Becca” comes up with the excuse that her computer’s video camera is broken. Whenever Franklin becomes skeptical of “Becca” being real, Chuck thinks of something to continue the ruse.
At one point, Franklin insists on talking to “Becca” on the phone. And so, Chuck averts Franklin’s suspicions that “Becca” is a fake persona when Chuck enlists a neurotic co-worker whom he’s been dating named Erica (played by Rachel Dratch) to impersonate “Becca” over the phone. Erica is infatuated with Chuck, but she’s very reluctant to be a part of this deceit. Chuck lies to Erica by saying that it’s a prank that he and Franklin play on each other as a father-son tradition. Erica participates in this con only after she gets Chuck to agree to have sex with her at their office.
Of course, there’s a sexual component that becomes a part of Franklin’s online “romance” with “Becca.” It’s a part of the deception that makes Chuck the most squeamish and feeling very guilty about what he’s doing. But that doesn’t stop dishonest Chuck from making Erica an unwitting accomplice during a hilarious scene involving online sex talk.
To be clear: “I Love My Dad” does not condone incest or sexual abuse. Rather, it shows in amusing and unsettling ways how pathetic online liars can be with their con games. The people who know Chuck’s secret (his co-workers Jimmy and Erica) express their disapproval to Chuck, but Chuck is the type of person who will do what he wants, no matter what other people say about it being wrong. The movie makes it obvious that as much as Chuck thinks he’s too smart to get caught, he’s really the one who’s degrading himself the most.
“I Love My Dad” has some hilarious twists and turns as Chuck’s lies get bigger, and he goes to greater lengths to prevent his lies from being exposed. This movie works so well as a comedy, mainly because the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s really a “truth is stranger than fiction” movie that seems so absurd, it might as well be a comedy. Morosini admirably channels what must have been a very painful time in his life into a story that can not only entertain people but also provoke thoughtful discussions about healing from family dysfunction, deciding what to forgive, and choosing which family members to have in one’s life.
The lead performances by Morosini and Oswalt make this movie’s engine run with a crackling energy of two characters who are at odds with each other but also weirdly co-dependent on each other for emotional validation. Some viewers might not care for how “I Love My Dad” ends, while other viewers will love the movie’s ending. Either way, the intended message of “I Love My Dad” is that there’s sometimes no way to predict what people will do to be close to the ones they love.