‘I Love My Dad’: Not much funny about a cruel man tricking his suicidal son

Patton Oswalt plays the estranged father posing online as a young woman in the off-putting would-be comedy

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Chuck (Patton Oswalt, left) tries to reconnect with son Franklin (James Morosini) after a lifetime of neglect in “I Love My Dad.”

Magnolia Pictures

We’re told writer-director-star James Morosini’s cringe-inducing and off-putting non-comedy “I Love My Dad” is based on Morosini’s personal experiences with his father, and one can only hope Morosini’s real-life pops didn’t stoop to the sociopathic levels of cruelty and manipulation exhibited by the fictional version. Occasionally creative but mostly distasteful and thuddingly unfunny, this is the kind of story that asks us to take wild leaps of faith at every turn—and then buy into a redemption story arc that is neither plausible nor earned.

As we learn from an opening montage of phone messages, Patton Oswalt’s Chuck has been an absentee father for nearly all of the important events in the life of his son Franklin (Morosini). Cut to present day, and Franklin is just out of a rehabilitation facility after a suicide attempt, and he wants nothing to do with his estranged father, so he blocks him on social media.

When Chuck laments this to his friend and co-worker Jimmy (Lil Rel Howery, wasted in a nothing role), Jimmy mentions he once created a fake identity so he could track his ex-girlfriend. Light bulb moment! After Chuck meets a sympathetic young waitress named Becca (Claudia Sulewski) at his local diner, he creates a fake Facebook profile using Becca’s photos, and he strikes up a conversation with his vulnerable and gullible son. Their virtual relationship eventually extends to long texting sessions, as poor Franklin starts to fall in love with “Becca.”

‘I Love My Dad’

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Magnolia Pictures presents a film written and directed by James Morosini. Rated R (for sexual content and language). Running time: 90 minutes. Opens Friday at Landmark Renaissance Place in Highland Park and Aug. 12 on demand.

So what does Chuck do? Does he come clean with Franklin, or simply have Becca ghost him? No no no. He continues the ruse, even though his son has just tried to commit suicide and is clearly in a fragile state, and there’s no possible way this can end without Franklin being hurt and humiliated.

Writer-director Morosini employs the increasingly popular technique of placing characters in the same room, interacting with one another, to represent their texting conversations. (This is a tricky proposition, because as we all know, texting can be flat and curt and cryptic and rarely contains the sort of connection gained by personal interaction.) Sometimes when Franklin is engaged in intimate exchanges with Becca, we see him with Claudia Sulewski’s Becca, who comes across as nothing but a gushing, fairy-tale princess with no real dimension. On other occasions, including a virtual make-out session, we see Franklin with his father—and I guess we’re supposed to laugh at the visuals of Patton Oswalt and James Morosini kissing. What a hoot! Boy, Dad is really putting one over on his son—but hey, he does feel kinda bad about it, so there’s that.

“I Love My Dad” completely goes off the rails when Chuck agrees to drive Franklin to meet Becca in person. Finally, it’s a chance for father and son to bond, and bond they do—but it’s all based on Chuck’s ongoing, horrific deception of his son. You love your dad? Kid, get a restraining order and make a vow to never talk to him again. You’d be much better off.

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