Review: Dark Comedy “I Love My Dad” Is Uneven But an Acting Showcase

This film has some odd directorial flourishes that distract from the story more than they enhance it —but the smart script makes up for it in the end

I Love My Dad is the kind of movie that would win the top two prizes at SXSW, which is exactly what happened earlier this year, prompting Magnolia Pictures to plunk down a strong offer on the dark comedy. Opening in theaters today, it’s based on the kind of true story that movies are made of—the kind that therapists could spend thousands of billed hours unpacking.

The film hails from writer-director James Morosini, a Boston-bred actor with a long list of TV credits over the past dozen years. He also stars as Franklin, a troubled young man who has recently attempted suicide. His world brightens, however, when he begins getting Facebook messages from a pretty waitress named Becca (Claudia Sulewski) who lives just a few hours away and couldn’t be easier to talk to, even though they’ve never actually spoken on the phone. Suspiciously, Franklin is her only friend on Facebook, but he’s willing to overlook that red flag because she appears to be his only friend in the world. There’s just one problem…

Becca is actually Chuck… and Chuck is Franklin’s father.

Patton Oswalt plays Chuck, a father desperate to reconnect with his son and willing to go to extreme lengths to repair their deeply frayed relationship. Of course, things don’t exactly go as planned.

I Love My Dad
Image via Magnolia Pictures

When Franklin finally insists on meeting “Becca” in real life, he asks his father to drive him up to Maine to see her. Chuck agrees, hoping the road trip will bring them closer, even though he knows the jig is about to be up on his sad charade.

Along for the ride is SNL alum Rachel Dratch, who plays Chuck’s girlfriend and is pulled into participating in his sick little game; Lil Rel Howery as Chuck’s best friend, who correctly thinks the whole ploy is weird; Amy Landecker as Chuck’s ex-wife and Franklin’s protective mother; and comedian Ricky Velez as Becca’s partner/co-worker.

Related: Patton Oswalt Stops to Catch His Breath in Q&A With LAMag 

Though most folks tend to think of Oswalt as a comedian, he happens to be a talented dramatic performer (check out Big Fan and Young Adult for proof), and he’s quite good in I Love My Dad, which requires him to walk a fine line. After all, we know what Chuck is doing is wrong, but we’re rooting for a happy ending between him and Franklin. Not that kind of happy ending, but you know what I mean. His heart is in the right place, even though the audience will spend most of the film wondering just what the hell Chuck is thinking, playing with his son’s heart like that.

I Love My Dad
Image via Magnolia Pictures

Morosini chooses to play Franklin, as, well, kind of a loser, as though the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, but the director might have benefitted from casting someone else in the lead role. Thankfully, he develops a better handle on his character as the film progresses, and Oswalt’s performance is strong enough to pick up the slack. Sulewski is sort of the third wheel on their road trip together, as she pops up in fantasy scenes when either Franklin or Chuck imagines her to be there, and the influencer-turned-actress makes the most of her highest-profile role yet.

I Love My Dad is a little uneven—there are some odd directorial flourishes that distract from the story more than they enhance it —but the smart script makes up for it, and while it may be an awkward cringe-fest, there’s enough heart and humor on display here that I have no choice but to recommend this one—especially because Morosini sticks the landing. This is very much an early-in-career film for the director, but it’s something of a crowd pleaser, and it’s certainly worth seeking out in a theatrical marketplace brimming with disappointing summer studio movies.

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