I Love My Dad: Overfished, by Sarah Brinks
On its surface, I Love My Dad is a “comedy” about a father’s misguided attempt to stay in touch with his estranged son on social media. However, the moment you stop to think about the reality of the premise, it becomes a deeply disturbing tale about betrayal, the dangers of social media, and the phenomenon of “catfishing” someone.
I think the only reason this film gets away with its premise is because it is based on real life events lived by the writer, director, and star James Morosini. When Morosini was 19, he blocked his dad on social media after a big fight. Shortly after that he received a friend request from a pretty girl (Becca) who seemed perfect, the only problem was the girl was actually his dad using a dummy account.
The film does try to show the father’s motivation as noble and goes out of its way to show that lying to his son is wrong but the film crosses several lines, making it hard to ever get and stay on board with him. The biggest line crossed is when the son, Franklin (Morosini), becomes intimately involved with his online girlfriend “Becca.” The scene is played for comedy but is uncomfortable and borderline incestuous.
Despite its challenging premise, the film is well made. For a relatively young director, Morosini uses the medium of film to great success. In place of text messages or letters read out loud, the actors will stand and say the text, even when it’s a hastily written message with lots of spelling errors. It’s a clever way to make the scenes more compelling without asking the viewer to do a lot of reading. It also makes the relationship with Becca feel more real for the audience, in particular the moments when they are not speaking and Franklin is just imagining being with her. Morosini also uses lighting and sound very effectively in some of the more emotionally intense scenes.
The cast of the film is excellent. Patton Oswalt plays Franklin’s dad, Chuck. Oswalt brings his usual charm and emotional depth to Chuck, probably making him more likeable than a lesser actor could manage. Oswalt is a big component of what saves the premise from being completely unforgivable. He shows the desperation of a father trying to connect to his son while going about it in the worst possible way.
Morosini is doing triple duty on the film as writer, director and actor. He has the advantage of having lived the story he is portraying but he also brings a real vulnerability to Franklin. We see how much he is struggling and how the mere prospect of a relationship lifts his depression a little and gives him something to focus on other than his sadness.
I Love My Dad uses a couple of comedic giants to help lift the mood and bring some genuine humor to even the most uncomfortable scenes. Lil Rel Howery plays Chuck’s work friend, Jimmy. Jimmy accidentally gives Chuck the idea to catfish his son and is the character who most often voices out loud that what Chuck is doing is deeply wrong. However, he brings that Lil Rel comedic delivery that elevates every scene that he is in. The other comedian who tells Chuck that he is doing a terrible thing is his girlfriend, played by Rachel Dratch. Dratch plays Erica, a middle-aged woman who is clearly settling for Chuck but is trying to make their disappointing relationship spicy. She brings some much needed moral heft to the film while still being funny.
The surprising stand out in the film is Claudia Sulewski as Becca. She has the challenging role of trying to play Franklin’s dream girl while saying the words of a middle-aged man, trying to sound like a young woman. She also has to play the real Becca in bookend scenes in the movie. Sulewski walks the tightrope masterfully while never overstepping too far either direction.
The premise of I Love My Dad feels like a movie that should have been made in the 1990s but over AOL instant messenger instead of Facebook. Despite it being based on real events, it feels dated and a little tone deaf. The dangers of social media algorithms in an age of QAnon and MeToo have been widely discussed as well as the phenomenon of “catfishing” and online sexual predators. While Franklin’s dad might have been doing it out of misguided drive to connect, it goes way too far. The tone of the film is too serious to be enough of a comedy to make the discomfort funny enough to not be disturbing. A few more needle drops and the occasional sound effect and it could have been a 90s nostalgia throwback but instead it is a really well made, tonally disjointed, well-acted mess. To use a popular term, cringe.