James Morosini was fished out by his father. He made a movie out of it.

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What do you do when life gives you lemons? You make lemonade, of course.

What do you do when life inflicts humiliating, emotional trauma on you involving yourself, your dad, and the internet? You make a movie out of it.

“I love my father” was created at South by Southwest Film Festival in March and won both the Jury Prize and the People’s Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature – quite remarkable for a film that most viewers watch through their fingers while screaming in embarrassment. Writer-director-star James Morosini’s second feature (“Threesomething”), it’s an inky black comedy about Franklin, a brooding young man played by the filmmaker, who has cut off all communication with his unreliable misfit a father, Chuck, played by actor-comedian Patton Oswalt. Desperate to connect, the father creates a fake Facebook account and, disguised as Becca (Claudia Sulewski), a slender, friendly woman around Franklin’s age, strikes up a relationship with his son who can’t help but veer to oh-no-they-don’t/oh-my-god-they-have-territory.

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It sounds like a tabloid headline or a particularly unseemly Subreddit headline: I Got Catfished By My Own Father. Still, “I Love My Dad,” which opened in theaters Friday and whose title points in at least two directions, is more than just a nod to a joke. Rather, it goes to real honest and moving places in the eternal struggle between parent and child – while simultaneously making you want to rinse your eyeballs out with lye.

Worst of all? (Or better, depending on how much you like schadenfreude.) It really happened to James Morosini. Speaking via Zoom recently from his home in Los Angeles, the lanky cinema triple threat, 32, “confessed”. “When I was about 20, I had a fight with my dad and decided 20-year-old style that I was going to cut him, that I was done with him. I blocked him on Facebook , I changed her name on my phone to Do not answer. And I came home one day and this very pretty girl sent me a friend request on Facebook, and she had all the same interests as me and all these great pictures. I was really excited and I started to feel better about myself. My self-esteem started to improve. And then I found out that was my dad, and he Created this thing to make sure I was okay.

And how long did the deception last? “Longer than I would have liked, I will say.”

At the same time, Morosini says the social media disaster has led to a strange sort of settling of scores between father and son. “It forced our relationship to rock bottom, which allowed an experience of honesty to start to be more important in our relationship. And that’s what the movie is about in many ways. How honest are we in our relationships? And what does it mean to be closer to someone if you approach them dishonestly?”

“I Love My Dad” separated the filmmaker from his generational cohort of young Hollywood guys, all writing and acting and putting weird comedy shorts on the internet while hoping for their big break. Morosini grew up shooting small action videos in suburban Boston – “kids with boxing gloves, who don’t know how to fight, trying to hit each other” – and, after getting his graduated from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, tried to make it as an actor, finding some success (“American Horror Story” on FX, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” on HBO Max) and little fulfillment.

“I was often cast as a brother or, like, the dumb guy,” he says. “I was making a decent living, but I wasn’t necessarily creatively fulfilled. So I was spending a lot of time writing feature films and doing web series and watching an obsessive amount of movies. I would go down, like, the AFI Top 100. I would go down the Sight & Sound Top 100. I would go country by country. I spent a lot of time with Eric Rohmer and became really obsessed with Michael Haneke.

This eclecticism reflects the films Morosini loves and the films he wants to make. “I admire a big-budget Hollywood film,” he says, “but I also like more personal independent films. And I think my intention is to try to combine those sensibilities. My dream is to make films big-budget shows that have a certain quirkiness, that almost have a taboo built in one way or another.

With “I Love My Dad”, he nailed the taboo part. The scenes in which an amorous Franklin wants to get, uh, intimate with his new Internet girlfriend while Chuck, on the other end of the phone, frantically tries to backtrack and then improvise, are horribly hilarious or hilarious, especially when seen with an audience in full vocal mortification.

“It’s part of the mischievous fun of the movie, seeing everyone freaking out while they’re watching it,” admits the director. “And I think that was my intention in doing that, to take people through this roller coaster, where some parts are really sarcastic and then there are parts that are really heartfelt, and the audience has to be on their toes. guard all the time.”

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He has particular praise for his co-star, who steps into the role of Chuck with a fearlessness that evokes a delicate kind of awe. “Patton is able to bring lightness to darkness and he’s also able to work with tone, where he’s able to shift gears and go from light to dark and dark to light,” Morosini explains. “And he approaches all of this work with a great sense of humanity.”

Oswalt, reached by email while in San Diego for Comic-Con, said of his work with Morosini, “He gave me something great to play against, in that in a lot of our scenes, you see he doesn’t give me anything, because these are the walls that the son has erected around his father. My attempt to break through these walls created this terrible tension and led to real emotion [and human comedy].”

When asked what he sees in Morosini’s future, Oswalt replied, “I have no idea where he’s headed. He will zigzag like the great directors of the early 70s. Sidney Lumet went from ‘Serpico’ to ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ to ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ to ‘Network’. Directors who are real seekers never try to carve out a niche. They try to expand the web.

Morosini embraces this research. “I feel like I have something very special to pursue, and I can’t even express it,” he says. “But I know ‘I Love My Dad’ is a step on that journey.”

Before that next step, however, the world wants to know: what did Morosini’s father think of the film? “I was nervous for him to see it,” the filmmaker says, “but he loves it and he’s into the joke and is able to laugh at himself. And, I don’t know, that’s how I try to process things in my own life How can I laugh at them and realize that in the grand scheme of things, anything can be laughed at?

One answer is to get an audience to laugh — and feel — with you.

Ty Burr is the author of the Ty Burr’s Watch List movie recommendation newsletter at tyburrswatchlist.substack.com.

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