Sometimes you wonder if every over-40 white dude in America needs Lil Rel Howery as a confidante, the best friend willing to be the one to tell Your Average White Man “You’re outta your damned mind” when the need arises, the guy who points out the obvious.
“Chuck, this is creepy as f—!”
That last line makes him the surrogate for the audience, snappishly trying to set straight Patton Oswalt’s estranged-dad desperate to maintain contact with his son in “I Love My Dad.” Father Chuck crosses all SORTS of lines to make that happen in this cringe-worthy comedy about a Dad catfishing his own kid.
Let’s ignore the fact that co-worker Jimmy (Howery) is the one who suggested creating a fake social media profile so that Chuck can get around his depressed, once-suicidal son’s “blocking” him. Chuck takes that tip, cyber-stalks a cute, friendly waitress (Claudia Sulewski) he’s met — once — steals her photos and invents an irresistible “friend” request.
It’s what Chuck has to do to maintain the illusion that takes this dark James Morosini laugher into “creepy” as you-know-what territory.
An opening montage of voice mail messages serves up Chuck’s parade of beg-off excuses and lies for not being there for this, that or the other big moment in son Franklin’s (Morosini) life — birthdays, graduations, promised vacations. These have piled up into the biggest grievance imaginable.
However supportive his mom (Amy Landecker) is, 20something Franklin has struggled with a staggering depression. His absentee Dad makes a convenient target, and when Franklin “shares” his decision to cut off contact with him at his suicide survivors support group, there is no pushback.
Chuck, they and we take for granted, is toxic for his son, who recently tried to kill himself. Only Chuck, struggling to get by across the state line in Maine, sees things differently. Well into his 40s, stuck in a cubicle job, his ex hates him and he’s dating a co-worker (Rachel Dratch) who’d rather swap sexts and phone come-ons because when it comes to sex, “You’re not good a it.”
His kid, just now getting over “thoughts of self-harm,” cutting him off? Chuck can’t bear it. That’s how the whole “Becca” thing online gets started. Whatever the ethics of it, Chuck can see a net positive in “her,” bucking up his son — who never learned to drive, has no job or thought of how to get one — giving him confidence and advice under the guise of this beautiful age-appropriate woman.
And if she suggests he not be “so hard” on his dad? That’s a win win.
Of course Franklin is flattered by this attention, and that turns to “smitten.” Cue Jimmy.
“This is INCEST, Chuck.”
Actor turned actor-writer-director Morosini, looking for something edgier than his threesome-goes-wrong outing “Threesomething,” takes things to the next level in passing off “I Love My Dad” as something that “actually happened” in an opening title. That’s neither here nor there.
The clever touch here is having Franklin imagine, in his mind, Becca actually there with him as they’re having these chats, which take a turn from seeing her everywhere (inside the supermarket refrigeration case) to “Can we video chat?,” “Can I call?”, “I’m coming to see you” to “I’m kissing you.”
And Chuck is seeing these “creepy” encounters the way they really are, especially the kissing part.
The best bit? A frantic driving-while-texting (typos included) moment with Sulewski forced to act-out the misspellings and botched grammar to lovesick…and confused, Franklin.
It’s a cut, cringey gimmick, and it’d be nice to say “I Love My Dad” transcends that and finds something interesting to say about fathers and sons and “growing up,” even later in life. It doesn’t.
But Oswalt is properly perplexed, stricken, devious and amusingly careless as this lifelong liar, someone who with a long track record of cheating to take the easy way out. Morosini is convincingly morose. Dratch brings the funny, as always.
Winsome newcomer Sulewski is alternately sweet, the smile that launched a thousand catfishes, and real — a working class 20something who may have a limited horizon, but who has already had to learn how to brush off unwanted attention.
And Lil Rel, perfecting that incredulous glare behind those thick glasses, makes the most of another “Black voice of reason in the hero’s ear” role. I wonder if he’s accepting “friend” requests?
Rating: R for sexual content and language.
Cast: Patton Oswalt, James Morosini, Claudia Sulewski, Rachel Dratch, Amy Landecker and Lil Rel Howery.
Credits: Scripted and directed by James Morosini. A Magnolia (Aug. 5) release.
Running time: 1:36