At the root of a dark comedy is sadness. Some examples may take more effort to trace back to that forlorn emotion, but the premise usually begins with an unfortunate circumstance and then carried beyond the point of comfort or absurdism; ideally to create humour. It’s all about finding amusing, and sometimes inappropriate, ways of interpreting that sadness. And, I Love My Dad is successful most of the time.
Writer/director James Morosini (Threesomething) draws from a bizarre personal experience. Morosini plays Franklin, a former rehab resident who is rediscovering his bearings as he moves back in with his mother (Amy Landecker). Franklin’s father Chuck (comedian Patton Oswalt) is out of the picture. After several disappointments, Franklin has decided to place permanent distance between himself and his dad in an attempt to squash looming negativity; including blocking him on social media. Devastated by the online block and stubborn to stay in contact, Chuck decides to masquerade online as a younger woman, Becca (Claudia Sulewski), to attract Franklin’s interest and fix the fractured communication.
The idea of a father “catfishing” his son is creepy and – say it with me – sad. Morosini understands this and, with great confidence, faces potential humiliation because he comprehends how he can create comedic milage out of this experience. He does, in fact, find lots of funny material in the desperation of the situation. Whether that includes Chuck trying to hide his secret by keeping the lie going, Franklin’s awkward socializing, or the funniest chat-based sex scene since 2004’s Closer, Morosini is able to identify what’s funny about in-the-moment interactions.
However, there are brief gaps in the comedy where the laughs are missing and the sadness is more apparent. This happens during the initial build up towards the “catfish” scheme, and some middle bits where depressed emotions edge out sillier moments. It’s because the audience doesn’t know Franklin or Chuck well enough to laugh at their frustrations. Oswalt finds some comedic volleying with co-stars Lil Rel Howery (Bad Trip) and Rachel Dratch (Wine Country) as Chuck’s brutally honest co-workers, but the character feels underdeveloped nonetheless. The past between Franklin and Chuck is eventually revealed, although the details are light. But, it’s enough of an opening for the audience to find a reason to laugh at their awkward dynamic. Morosini rewards the audience’s patience and consideration with a great finale that’s outrageous and also, strangely enough, kind of sweet.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie