Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I have heard of just about every type of catfishing story (many of them thanks to watching years worth of MTV’s Catfish episodes), but a father catfishing his son? That’s a new one! SXSW film I Love My Dad, written and directed by lead star James Morosini, is multifaceted in its approach to laugh-out-loud comedy and touching drama. I could barely fathom how deeply personal and realistic it feels; it makes perfect sense then that I Love My Dad is inspired by Morosini’s actual experiences. One can only guess how deeply it must cut, or how cathartic it must have felt to spill his truth in such deep brushstrokes.

Franklin (Morosini) may not be the most stable person alive, but who is, really? Just finishing up at a suicide support group, Franklin announces he has made one of the single-most important decisions of his life: blocking his constantly-absent excuse-a-holic father, Chuck (comedian Patton Oswalt) on social media. Chuck is the kind of dad who thinks writing on one’s Facebook wall is enough to make up for his lack of physical attendance. Chuck misses graduations, birthdays, and everything in between, and finally Franklin has had enough!

It doesn’t take long for Chuck to notice that he has been blocked—his calls are not even going through. Chuck’s coworker, played by Lil Rey Howery, recalls a time when he was blocked by an ex, and subsequently created a dummy profile to check in on her. And just like that, the spark of an idea is born. When at a diner observing a pretty waitress (Claudia Sulewski), Chuck decides to use her identity to create a fake profile. One friend request and several minutes later, Franklin accepts “Becca.” The two start messaging, and an instant connection is born. Unbeknownst to Franklin, his dad is behind every flirty sentence…

Part of what makes I Love My Dad work so well is that this is all just so delightfully weird. The choice to film the text exchanges through physical embodiments makes for some especially strange combinations. Seeing two grown adults loudly repeating “haha” over and over exemplifies how silly our modern text-speak comes across. I’m assuming that each scene between Franklin and “Becca” was filmed two times—once with Morosini and Sulewski, and again with Morosini and Oswalt. Some of it (I believe) has been shot a third time, with Morosini or Oswalt alone, and the reality of the people observing their outbursts. My personal favorite was probably Franklin grooving hard while out on a run, and a neighbor onlooking in horror.

I have to imagine the reality of certain events depicted were particularly traumatizing in real life for James Morosini. One needs only to give a stray thought towards how awkward it would be to accidentally sext your parents. How about falling in love with someone that does not technically exist? Channeling personal trauma in a darkly comedic way, I Love My Dad’s scripting is quite sharp and undeniably personal. The nail-biting tension when the audience suspects Franklin might discover the truth about catfishing is teased to the point of anxiety.

Supporting players like Franklin’s mom (Amy Landecker) and Chuck’s girlfriend (Rachel Dratch) do pay off plot-wise, and both function as a strong supporting female presence in the lives of Franklin and Chuck, respectively. Though the version of “Becca” that Franklin falls in love with technically does not exist, Sulewski makes her likable and sweet, long before there is a single sexual mutter in their relationship. Franklin opens up with “Becca” in a way he never did with his father before. This isn’t altogether surprising considering Franklin’s past mental health struggles and general quietness, but Chuck finally getting a window into Franklin’s world makes it harder to cut off the toxic behavior.

I Love My Dad certainly earned my love. I myself have a close relationship with my dad, so movies like this have a special place in my heart. I adored seeing the way both Franklin and Chuck need one another, and how their relationship keeps weaving closer over the course of the movie. Previously, James Morosini had only directed the feature, Threesomething, about a threesome gone awry, and in his SXSW debut, Morosini soars. That I Love My Dad feels simultaneously so indie yet so polished is a testament to the craft on display. The film’s ending left me with a smile on my face—I Love My Dad is pure dramedy charm, and crafts an unforgettable bond between the catfisher and the catfishee.

I Love My Dad screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

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