On paper, the premise for I Love My Dad is not only ambitious but outright cringe. Inspired by a real experience from writer, director and star James Morosini, the film follows a desperate father (Patton Oswalt) who accidentally pulls off the catfish of the century, as he pretends to be someone else online in order to check in and be close to his estranged son Franklin (Morosini).
“I’m going to be honest with you, I didn’t know if this would work until I actually saw it in front of an audience,” Oswalt told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s West Hollywood premiere on Thursday. “I liked watching it by myself, but it’s not until you get in front of a group of people and [can] listen to people. Yes, they laugh, but then also, [they] kind of grimace and cringe, and some people are watching it through their fingers. It just felt amazing that I was part of that.”
The stand-up comedian not only flexes his comedic chops in the film but also has been commended for his emotional performance as a father looking for connection with his son.
“I had to just really go in both feet and not think about it that much,” Oswalt said about diving into those heartfelt scenes. “There were certain scenes that were so emotional that if I had overthought it, you would have seen me thinking about it. This sounds really weird, [but] you think acting is very technical. But a lot of times, the best thing to do is let your mind go blank.”
As if the premise weren’t wacky enough, the film’s script pushes its actors to the limit, toeing the line of what’s just cringe enough to what’s taking it too far.
“There were sections of the script that I remember reading and thinking, ‘I don’t know how they’re gonna pull this off,’” Oswalt remembered. “Like this is either going to be a success or it’ll be a fiasco. There’ll be no in-between. We’re gonna shoot for something and we’re gonna hit or we’re gonna miss it. And I love that style of filmmaking.”
“Honestly reading the script, it was one of the fastest reads I’ve ever had,” added Claudia Sulewski, who plays Franklin’s online girlfriend persona Becca in the film. “Because you just can’t believe what’s unfolding as you’re reading it, or watching it. And so for me personally, as soon as I reached that sexting scene, I was like, I need to see how this is going to be done and how it’s going to be shot.”
She’s referencing a scene in the movie, in which Oswalt’s character sexts with his son in order to maintain the catfishing ruse. “James is dancing on that fine line,” Sulewski said of the director. “Taking it almost too far, but never necessarily crossing it. Getting to be a part of that is just so exciting.” The budding actress is new to the Hollywood scene, as I Love My Dad marks her feature film debut. Prior, she built up a strong social media following as a YouTuber and has garnered over two million followers on Instagram.
As Franklin’s imaginary dream girl, Sulewski is effectively playing the same role as Oswalt throughout the majority of the film. “For imaginary Becca, there was so much to play with,” she explained. “I mean for starters, I’m literally his dad. I’m also playing into the male gaze of what an imaginary girl looks like and what she talks like.”
For Morosini, taking on the task of writing, directing and starring in such an ambitious story was always how he intended it. “I wanted to have as much skin in the game creatively as I possibly could,” the Sex Lives of College Girls actor said. “And I wanted to put every ounce of myself into the film from every direction.”
The R-rated comedy made its debut at SXSW 2022, where it won both the Jury and Audience awards in Narrative Feature Competition.
“I had so much FOMO that I couldn’t be there,” said Amy Landecker, who plays Franklin’s mother, on missing out on the festival. “I just got goosebumps all over my body telling you because I’m not even like a big part of this, but it’s so brilliant and so funny. I am not being hyperbolic to say the only other time I was like in a theater in front of a crowd like that was at the premiere of Get Out. It had that kind of visceral audience reaction.”
“It’s cringe beyond, right?” Landecker added. “Get ready to be so grossed out, you almost can’t stand it. In the best way. If you like cringe comedy, this is horrible. [James] is gonna be like the new king of cringe.”
“It’s definitely not a broad comedy,” Morosini said of the cringe factor. “I would call it discomfort.”
I Love My Dad hits theaters on Friday.