Saturday 22 October 2022

I LOVE MY DAD - London Film Festival 2022

In a desperate attempt to be a part of his depressed, estranged son Franklin's life, Chuck (Patton Oswalt) pretends to be a beautiful young woman who connects with him over social media. As their online relationship progresses and Franklin (James Morosini) starts to feel a real connection with this fictional woman, Chuck uses his son's lifted spirits to reconnect with him and rebuild their father/son bond by offering romantic advice. Based on a story writer/director/star James Morosini assures us actually happened, I Love My Dad is cringe comedy at its finest.

As any millennial will attest, parents on social media are a complete liability, with embarrassing posts, photos and likes an everyday struggle to ignore. But it's rare to find a parent who would go to the lengths Chuck does here to stay a part of his son Franklin's life. Blocked on all socials and with his calls ignored after a lifetime of poor parenting, the well-meaning but emotionally stunted Chuck decides to catfish as a waitress from his local diner and start as conversation with his son online. Although at first sceptical of this random follow, the lonely and depressed Franklin soon finds himself forming a bond with her, not knowing it's really his dad he's quickly falling for.

It's been a while since the heyday of cringe comedy, with TV shows such as The Office, Extras and the various Alan Partridge shows pushing the boundaries of what's socially acceptable behaviour, and what's okay and (maybe) not okay to laugh at. Perhaps the obvious example for the big screen is Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, using a faux-documentary format that heightened the feeling of awkwardness by putting the audience in a real world scenario. There was also a rich vein of exceedingly dark comedy in the American independent cinema of the late 00s, most notably by comedian turned director Bobcat Goldthwait who took some outlandish inter-personal concepts and made some of the finest black comedies of all time with a blend of pain, embarrassment and catharsis. I'm not going to say what Sleeping Dogs and World's Greatest Dad are about here, but if you know, you know what I'm talking about.

Directing from his own script and starring as Franklin, a semi-fictionalised version of himself, Morosini hooks us in from the off with a simple disclaimer, "This really happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn't". Chuck isn't a bad person, just a bad father, whose own personal failings have kept him from building that close relationship with his son. He's a mess of a man slowly re-building his life after his divorce from Franklin's mother and starting a new relationship with girlfriend Erica (Rachel Dratch). Franklin, fresh out of a stint in therapy, only sees his relationship with Chuck as toxic, so cuts him out of his life as best he can. Desperate to talk to Franklin, Chuck uses a photograph of waitress Becca (Claudia Sulewski) and contacts him online posing as her, seemingly clueless as to how warped that is and how damaging to his already emotionally crippled son it might be.

In a smart storytelling move that pulls the rug from underneath us on more than one occasion, the fictional Becca appears in Franklin's fantasies as they talk, share stories and build a relationship online, leading to what is undoubtedly the film's most disturbing moment - a four-way sexting scene between the main characters, one of whom is fictional and one who doesn't know they're not the only ones involved. So cringe-inducing there's a distinct chance that the audience might turn themselves inside out from second-hand embarrassment, it's the film's crowning achievement and a masterclass in finding humour in the most disturbing of ideas and situations.

Despite the troubling, incestuous paths the film threatens to take, I Love My Dad is ultimately a tender, deeply moving film about strained paternal relationships and the importance of giving people another chance, god forbid they might try something as extreme as this. It's helped by the easy chemistry Oswalt and Morosini have together, with Oswalt arguably the best he's ever been, delivering a sympathetic character who just happens to have some mixed up ideas on how to fix his past mistakes. Full of dark, disturbing comedy you won't forget anytime soon, I Love My Dad is a twisted Mrs Doubtfire for the age of online dating.


I Love My Dad was part of the Laugh strand at this year's London Film Festival.

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