It is ironic Chuck (Patton Oswalt) is fond of cut-and-paste because there isn’t much else in James Morosini’s clever debut feature that feels as if it has that quality. A father and a husband who has been ex-communicated from the family when his only idea ever seems to be to run from situations, he has good intentions yet unfortunate execution on them, wanting to prove his smarts by copying the moves from computer chess games played by the CPU to beat online opponents and granting his son Franklin permission to take home a stray that he finds on the way home is missed by its owner. There isn’t much hesitation then when an older Franklin has blocked him from all his social media accounts, essentially cutting him off completely, that he takes inspiration from his co-worker (Lil Rel Howrey) to start a fake Facebook profile that would allow him access.
Burner accounts don’t typically have the ability to destroy all parties involved, but “I Love You Dad” is constantly playing with fire, when Chuck is in the unenviable position of anonymously romancing his son after putting up a profile pic of a comely waitress he met at Carl’s Kountry Kitchen. This could be in such poor taste or unimaginatively crude in the wrong hands, but Morosini who claims to have experienced this at least to some degree in real-life with his own father not only has the personal insight to make the crazy premise feel honest, but a brilliant creative conceit to pull it off as sexting between Franklin and Chuck take the physical form of himself and Becca falling into a grand romance using his dad’s words, creating an infallible punchline when he cuts back to the reality of Chuck sitting behind a computer. But what really makes the joke work so consistently is the fact that “I Love My Dad” offers Oswalt one of those rare roles like “Young Adult” or “Big Fan” to show how gifted he is dramatically as much as comedically and eternally anguished here over breaking his son’s heart after raising his confidence or stressing himself out by keeping up the charade.
It’s telling that ringers like Howrey, Rachel Dratch and Amy Landecker, who plays Chuck’s ex-wife, are brought in to kill it in the couple scenes they’re in and throughout “I Love My Dad,” an awareness that the premise could wear thin leads to high-end distraction from that fact, projecting polish at every turn that may avoid the truly messy implications of its plot or take it in even more unpredictable directions, but there’s no doubt it’s a good time while it’s unspooling. Although Morosini cheekily leads with the opening credits gag that the events depicted are something both he and his dad would rather leave in the past, his devious sophomore feature is far from sophomoric and signals a bright future ahead for its director and star.
“I Love My Dad” will screen at SXSW on March 18th at 3:45 pm at the ZACH Theatre and will be available virtually for SXSW Online badgeholders until March 15th.