A simple fact of life is that dads can embarrass their children at essentially any moment. Whether it’s dancing horribly at a wedding, farting at a sonic boom level soundwave or cracking dad jokes, their goal of being the ultimate goofball of the family results in humiliated kids.
Even though each dad’s behavior may seem mortifying in the child’s teenager phase, the humor molds itself into a playful memory through the years. But what about the act of catfishing your child online and pretending to be someone else? Well, that’s certainly not going to make the family scrapbook as it’s very different from just simply wearing socks with sandals.
This unthinkable act is portrayed in the film “I Love My Dad.” The story follows a troubled young man, Franklin (James Morosini), who cuts off communication with his father to rid himself of his dad’s unreliability and regain steady mental health. In desperation, his father Chuck (Patton Oswalt) creates a fake online Facebook profile to keep in touch with Franklin. But, when things become extremely complicated and Franklin falls in love with this fictional woman named Becca (Claudia Sulewski) — who is puppeteered by his dad — the result is a cringe comedy at its finest.
The film checks off all the cringe comedy criteria by deriving its laughs from social awkwardness, idiosyncratic humor and guilty pleasure. Although the film was just released earlier this month, “I Love My Dad” aligns with other iconic cringe comedies such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Meet The Parents.” The beauty of a cringe comedy is similar to a tightrope with the film serving as the rope and the audience as the novice acrobat. If the rope is too firm, meaning it’s full of dull uneasiness, then the walker will tumble off and press pause. But, if the film provides discomfort with a touch of laughter, the acrobat will succeed in a perfect tightrope walk and continue to reuse that rope over and over again. The audience needs to be led to a state of second-hand embarrassment, but a state not so horribly humiliating that the viewer has enough pride to continue watching. The sheer audacity of a father flirting with his son to merely remain in the loop of his life is awkward gold — perfect for any cringe-comedy connoisseur.
While the audience pities Franklin as he falls victim to being catfished, viewers realize this story is based on true events that have happened to James Morosini, who is also the director of this film. Morosini told The Washington Post that the film follows his own personal experiences.
“When I was around 20 years old, I got in a big fight with my dad and I decided in kind of 20-year-old fashion that I was going to cut him out, that I was done with him.” Morosini continues, “Blocked him on Facebook, changed his name in my phone to ‘Do Not Answer.’ And I got home one day and this really pretty girl sent me a friend request on Facebook, and she had all the same interests as me and these great pictures. I got really excited, and I started to feel kind of better about myself. My self-esteem started to improve. And then I found out that it was my dad, and he created this thing as a way of making sure I was okay.”
Despite this being only Morosini’s second time directing and starring in a film at the same time, “I Love My Dad” is collecting one form of outstanding praise after the next. The film debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March and won both the jury prize along with the audience award for best narrative feature.
Not only is the cringe-worthy entertainment catching people’s attention, but the film also brings to light the destructive nature of catfishing. “I Love My Dad” has a very particular way of showing the scenes between Franklin and Becca, who is actually Chuck behind the screen. Instead of just showing the two rapidly texting each other back and forth, the camera pans to Franklin actually speaking to Becca as if they were interacting in person. What’s actually the two talking about their favorite movie is like a date to the theater for Franklin and similarly, the two discussing Franklin’s favorite video games is him showing Becca the buttons on the game controller. Even though the Becca that Franklin has been messaging does not exist, the image of her projected on screen feels like his actual reality.
The highlight of this film is Patton Oswalt’s performance as Chuck. For someone with a background in “The King of Queens” and “Ratatouille,” Oswalt’s comedic resumé allows for the audience to accept Chuck’s mistakes as naivety and not just a crappy father.
Overall, “I Love My Dad” is a unique daddy-issue story that is perfect for the digital age. Growing up, I always enjoyed watching MTV’s television show “Catfish,” where Nev Schulman helps reveal if certain online relationships are the result of a catfish or not. One would always assume if someone loved you, they would never hurt you or pretend to be someone they’re not. That is why the very essence of catfishing is so detrimental. It makes it sound so trivial that I was always embarrassed about my dad talking too loud in the movie theater or snoring all through the night. Catfishing your own kid? That’s going to lead to one hell of a Father’s Day.
“I Love My Dad” is playing in select theaters and is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.