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I Love My Dad movie - Chuck and Franklin

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I Love My Dad Is Deeply Uncomfortable, And Uniquely Enthralling

I Love My Dad is thoroughly engaging, both engrossing and gross; It’s an excellent portrayal of a reprehensible situation.

I Love My Dad Review

I Love My Dad —written and directed by James Morosini, and based on his real life experience— opens with a warning that “the following actually happened”, and a note that his dad asked him to tell us (the audience) that it didn’t. Then, we witness his dad (played by Patton Oswalt) steal a gorgeous Labrador who is clearly loved but lost, simply because it made his son, Franklin, happy for a moment. A young Franklin questions it, but his dad confidently brushes off his kid’s (valid, entirely fair) concerns, nonchalantly roping his son into both complicity and potential for heartbreak when the truth comes to light.

The brilliance of the way this opening puts the audience in limbo between the ominous warning and an obnoxious theft —is that this is only the beginning. We don’t yet know how far this man is willing to go in a state of true desperation to connect with his kid; All we know is that it’s about to get wild. Unfortunately —but can’t-look-away hilariously— the next hour and a half gives us the chance to find out.

It’s established from the get-go (through voicemails, and the dog-stealing) that Franklin’s father, Chuck, is a compulsive liar with absolutely zero morals or boundaries, and a dad who has been horribly absent. Patton Oswalt is the perfect choice for a despicable man who you kind of still want to root for. We meet an older version of his son, Franklin, (a despondent, introverted Morosini plays the starring role in his retelling of the chaotic mess that briefly was his reality) in the middle of the final support group meeting at an in-patient treatment center.

He’s informing the other participants that he is focused on “setting healthy boundaries” and has blocked his dad online: “He lies, and makes excuses. He’s never really been there for me when I needed him, and I’m.. . I’m done with that. I don’t need that in my life right now.” The group applauds in support, while we, the audience, see Franklin’s dad in his office clicking through Facebook, realizing he can no longer view his son’s posts.

When Chuck leaves work for the day looking “sad as fuck”, according to his coworker and close friend, Jimmy (an upbeat and supportive, but pragmatic character played by Lil Rel Howery), he explains that he thinks he’s been blocked by his son. Jimmy commiserates with Chuck, telling him that when the same thing happened with his ex, he simply made a new page with a different picture and kept checking up on her online. The comment is not inherently suggestive —in fact, Jimmy barely skips a beat before moving on to invite him to karaoke that night, but it sparks something within Chuck.

Image: Magnolia Pictures

Enter Becca (a charming, magnetic Claudia Sulewski), a diner waitress who shows Chuck remarkable kindness and patience, but is clearly just doing her job well. She is Chuck’s inspiration, his way into Franklin’s world. With the combination of her first name and the restaurant’s, he finds her Facebook profile in an instant and begins to replicate it, immediately saving her pictures to his computer. Through reflecting the minimal effort it takes a desperate middle-aged man to get this information about a young woman he met in passing, I Love My Dad carries an alarming reminder about the potential consequences of posting even the mundane aspects of your life online. 

Sulewski’s performance is so much richer than the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ role one might expect from a character made up by a father for his son. The film doesn’t rely on chat bubbles while the relationship develops over text; Instead, I Love My Dad places Becca in the room with Franklin, talking to him as comfortably as his imagined dream-girlfriend would. Becca delivers the lines as Chuck types them, complete with the frivolousness, seduction, and charisma that Franklin desires, but she is absolutely a whole person in our eyes. We see her firmly in existence, with an inner life and strong convictions. Also keeping us grounded in reality: Film Editor Josh Crockett‘s seamless cuts between the Becca acting out their text conversation beside Franklin, and the brief flashes to his mom seeing him just sitting around on his phone the way it’s truly happening.

The occasional technical issue typical of this predicament (“I can’t video chat, my camera is broken” and “I’m too busy at work to call you right now, let’s keep texting”) can’t help but remind us of the popular MTV show Catfish. Any thoughts questioning how Chuck and Franklin got this deep into deception are quickly answered by hints to our familiarity with the situation we’ve seen countless times on the reality show, and therefore know to be true for many people. But even without prior knowledge of Catfish, both men’s desperation to be seen and loved is an obvious gateway to some willful disbelief.

If we zoom in on Franklin’s perspective, I Love My Dad tells the story of the power of a crush: Becca serves as both distraction and motivation to proceed in his recovery and focus on starting life again. Both father and son are lonely, and uncertain about what their next step forward should look like. Convincing performances under unusual circumstances deliver a strange, tenuous form of sympathy from the audience; Watching the film leaves us in constant balance between genuinely shocked at Franklin and Chuck’s behaviour, and weighing up excuses for them. Eventually, it becomes blatantly clear that we should be more concerned than we already are.

Not even 15-minutes into the film, when Chuck shows his coworker what he’s done, Jimmy tells him that “This is the creepiest shit I’ve ever seen, ever.” Later, not even half way into the film, when we hear Jimmy frantically screaming “Abort! You are about to ruin your son’s life! Come clean!” into the phone, we know for sure that it’s about to get ludicrous, but things spiral more drastically out of control than we could guess.

Image: Magnolia Pictures

When Chuck agrees to take Franklin on a roadtrip to meet his online-girlfriend “Becca”, his ex-wife (Amy Landecker), who Franklin lives with, warns that “This could be incredibly destabilizing” for Franklin. Chuck replies “I know” too breezily to indicate that he grasps the reality of the situation around his son’s mental health struggles, despite knowing that he was hospitalized for attempting suicide. 

The height of disaster is a hilariously uncomfortable (incenstuous if you ask Jimmy) chaotic motel sexting scene depicted with such raw physicality that it is seared into my brain forever. Its explicit energy serves to elicit disgust, testing the boundaries of how much audacity the audience will accept from Chuck. At the same time —literally; the men are shouting through a door as father and son in real life, while Franklin masturbates over their sexting— the scene ramps up into a poignant argument about Chuck’s failure to parent from a distance, ironically questioning whether online presence is really a presence in someone’s life, and calling Chuck out for cutting corners in parenting the same way he has always done in life.

Nothing about the way I Love My Dad is filmed is abstract or mysterious. Morosini makes the events so clear that it’s almost unbearable to look straight ahead at, but also impossible to look away from. Presented clear as day: Chuck’s lies, Franklin’s vulnerability, his mother’s worry. Everything is right there for us, to know intimately and to squirm in our seats at the disturbing lengths Chuck will go to feel close to his only child.

We witness the heartwrenching pain in Chuck when he tries to break up with his son. Also sharp and vividly realized, almost to a degree of sad surrealism: A pool-centered suicide attempt that reads more as a playful, tranquil, aesthetic scene than life-ending crisis. Morosini, as director and actor, gently conveys Franklin’s crushing heartache without the audience being concerned that his life may actually be at risk.  On a lighter note, we also endure genuinely bad karaoke performances (surprisingly rare in films), and flawed people sincerely supported by their friends.

Image: Magnolia Pictures

In Oswalt’s dejected performance of a father admitting that “I tried to show up this time, but I got it wrong. Again” (his voice playing over home videos of Morosini from childhood) we recognize a man who may honestly not know how to connect to people. Every beat of this tension makes the film feel even more authentic, evoking an internal conflict in the audience about how strongly to judge his behaviour, despite the appalling memories of him sexting with his son minutes earlier.

The only time we are allowed the grace of not seeing everything in sharp detail is when the truth dawns on the women in Chuck’s life. In a scene filled with subdued rage and disbelief, we are briefly released from the reality of their anger through close-ups of screaming women set to the vaguely comical impending doom score reminiscent of silent films. This reprieve plays perfectly against a glorious neon scene depicting a panicked Chuck learning that they know about his lies: We watch him struggle to make his way out of the laser tag arena he’s been playing in while realizing he also can’t find his way out of the mess he has made.

I Love My Dad is thoroughly engaging, both engrossing and gross; It’s an excellent portrayal of a reprehensible situation. The film uses an unforgettable online-chess metaphor to illustrate and establish a history of Chuck confidently cheating through life in the most mediocre and unnecessary ways. When it’s all played through and we’re left in the quiet aftermath, Morosini offers us an ambiguous but satisfactory ending. We recognize solidarity between father and son, both men hopeless and hopeful, in need of comfort, and on their way to yet another fresh start.

Written By

Andrea Marks-Joseph is a South African freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter and at stargirlriots.com.

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