‘I Love My Dad’ true story: Real events of Patton Oswalt comedy

The logline for the film I Love My Dad includes the phrase “Inspired by a true story. It literally happened to me.” And that’s more or less the truth.

Written, directed and starring James Morosini, it is based on something that actually happened between the filmmaker and his father. During a period of estrangement, Morosini’s father set up a fake social media account posing as an attractive young woman and formed an online friendship with Morosini.

In the film, Franklin (Morosini) is a twenty-something in a low phase of his life, disoriented and depressed. His father Chuck (Patton Oswalt), who has an excuse for every disappointment and mistake, never takes responsibility for his own failed upbringing. After Franklin blocks him on social media, Chuck opens an account as a pretty young waitress named Becca (Claudia Sulewski) and develops a relationship with Franklin that quickly escalates. Eventually, Chuck takes Franklin on a road trip to meet online Becca in person, and the truth collides with a carefully constructed fantasy.

Allegedly a comedy, the film plumbs the emotional depths of Franklin’s depression and Chuck’s inability to admit all the ways he failed his son. The film’s unabashed portrayal of its offbeat premise places it high on the scale of terrifying moments.

“These are my favorite stories,” Morosini said in a recent interview, “the ones that seem like maybe they shouldn’t be told.”

“I really didn’t want to do broad comedy. I didn’t want to let the audience off the hook so easily. So you can’t say exactly, is that supposed to be funny or is it really sad? It keeps you from questioning what that is supposed to be. I think that’s how things often feel in life when you laugh and then cry.”

An older man leans on a younger man's shoulder.

Actor Patton Oswalt (left) and co-star/writer/director James Morosini of the new movie I Love My Dad.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Oswalt didn’t quite believe it was a true story when he first read the script until Morosini explained it himself.

“I just read it and it said ‘based on a true story,’ but I thought he was going to do a fake like ‘Fargo,'” Oswalt said. “And then he said, ‘No, here’s what happened.’ And he told me. I was like, ‘Well, I have to do this.’”

The film is the second Morosini-written, directed and starring Morosini, following 2018’s microbudget Threesomething, a study of male friendship through the emotional complications of a threesome. As an actor, Morosini, 32, has had numerous other roles, including The Sex Lives of College Girls and American Horror Story. “I Love My Dad” won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards when it premiered earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas and is now in theaters and on VOD.

In preparing for the role, Oswalt did not meet or speak to Morosini’s father prior to filming.

“I didn’t want to think about that. Whatever was in the script was real, even if it was made up,” Oswalt said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not. I have to make every scene feel real. Did that really happen? It doesn’t matter if it’s in the script.”

Morosini’s father did not read the script prior to filming and first saw the film during one of the screenings at SXSW with his son sitting in the midst of a packed audience. Morosini recalled that it was an emotional experience for both of them.

“I honestly was very protective of him, and my dad was actually a really great dad in a lot of ways,” Morosini said. “I think everyone has limitations, and Chuck in the film has limitations, but the film is really a kind of love letter to my father. It feels like I’m lovingly fishing it back.”

In response to his father’s response, Morosini said: “I mean, he loved it. I think he appreciated the emotional mystery of the film. I think he just appreciated that intellectually, so I think it was an easier pill to swallow.”

The film goes very squarely there, including scenes from some of the awkward online encounters that flash to you when you think about the original premise — one word: “sexting” — but Morosini chooses not to go too far into what actually is happened or not himself and his father.

“If I were a spectator, I would definitely be very curious. I just think the answer is so much less satisfying than the question,” Morosini said. “Knowing the details of what happened and what didn’t is like learning how a magician does a trick. It ceases to be interesting. Wonder is something I appreciate in other films and want to preserve with the experience of this film.”

Two men are talking in a car.

I Love My Dad star Patton Oswalt (right) and writer-director James Morosini.

(I love my father / Hantz Motion Pictures)

To prepare for their own on-screen relationship, Morosini and Oswalt watched many films together. Her selections included stories of fathers struggling to reconnect with their children, such as Sandra Huller’s “Toni Erdmann”, Chris Columbus’ “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Ronald Bronstein’s fearlessly singular “Frownland”.

“It was important for both of us that we wanted to make the same film and that we were trying to hit a very precise target sonically,” Morosini said. “So he and I talked a lot about exactly the kind of film we’re trying to make and we rehearsed a lot as far as the flow was concerned. We really tried to be conscious about the kind of film we wanted to make.”

Even after all of their preparation and rehearsals, Morosini was still shocked at how alive Oswalt’s performance was when production began.

“There were a few moments when we were shooting it, and I had to remind myself that not only am I there to acknowledge his great work, but I also have to act and direct alongside him,” Morosini said . “There were a few moments where I was really, really moved, acting with him in a scene or watching him, I was almost horrified at how affected I was by what he was connecting with in the story.”

Sometimes Oswalt even shocked himself.

“There was a scene where I basically had a nervous breakdown and when the scene was over I had to go to FaceTime, my wife, and she had to kind of trip me up,” Oswalt said. “And I thought, ‘Was I a bad father?’ Freaking out ’cause I thought I was on my way so I couldn’t be there That was really tough.”

The role of Chuck is a rare lead for Oswalt, who has enjoyed a long career as a stand-up comedian and actor in film and television. His last real leading role was in the dark indie Big Fan in 2009, for which he was nominated for a Gotham Award. His supporting role in 2011’s “Young Adult” also earned him numerous accolades from critics groups.

Which isn’t to say Oswalt wasn’t extremely busy. A simple scan of his Twitter bio mentions enough projects to fill someone else’s entire resume, including the Netflix series Sandman and an upcoming comedy special, Patton Oswalt: We All Scream, which marks his directorial debut. He co-created the animated series MODOK, in which he voices the title character, and also writes comics.

Still, Oswalt understands why he’s not often chosen for lead roles.

“Look how I look. I get really fun character acting roles, but you don’t put Dwight Frye or Warren Oates as the lead in your big budget movie,” he said. “I hate to use the word ‘bankability’ as if I were an agent, but it depends. I always want to serve the project. So if I’m starring in something but I’d ruin it, I don’t want s— to be in something good. If I’m going to do better as a supporting character, I’d rather do that and be great in a few scenes than say, ‘Well, he was the lead, but he should’ve only been there for 10 minutes. ‘”

“I aspire to be a Ned Beatty, Billy Green Bush, that whole ’70s era of great character actors,” Oswalt said. “I would like a job like that. If I could have Martin Balsam’s career, I’d be happy as a clam.”

The film also marks Oswalt’s first producing credit for a feature film, a decision resulting in part from a strategy he acknowledges has multiple motives.

“If I can start growing my profile as a producer, not only does that mean I can produce my own stuff, but if there’s a project I see someone struggling with then I want to do whatever I can to help “, Oswalt said. “It’s like I’m headlining theaters. Now I can bring new comics that I really, really love to bring out and open up to myself and introduce them to a wider audience.

“So it’s partly a form of movie fan greed where I want more stuff that I like to get made,” Oswalt added. “That has always been my philosophy. The reason I got into show business was because I started liking movies. In the beginning I didn’t like money and fame. I liked the movies so I want them to happen. Everything else is secondary.”

The process of creating I Love My Dad was very emotional for Morosini, and he hopes to take audiences on a similar emotional roller coaster ride.

“I think Franklin sees things very black and white early in the film, people are either good or bad, honest or dishonest,” he said. “And by the end of the film, he realizes that we’re all good and we’re all bad. We are all honest and dishonest. And I think he sees himself in his father at the end. And I think that’s also what I learned from making the film, to appreciate more deeply that we could do exactly the same thing under these circumstances.

“We’re all dishonest in one way or another,” Morosini added, “and I wanted to make a film where there’s no good or bad and force the audience to reckon with that idea.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-08-17/i-love-my-dad-true-story-patton-oswalt ‘I Love My Dad’ true story: Real events of Patton Oswalt comedy

Sarah Ridley

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