And you thought your family was nuts.
In “I Love My Dad,” comic Patton Oswalt plays an estranged father who makes some wildly bad decisions in his quest to reconnect with his son.
While Oswalt’s previous work includes performing a song called “The Cringe” on an episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” that pales next to the (intentional) cringe factor of this role. His Chuck catfishes his son, Franklin, by creating a fake Facebook profile of a hot woman with a crush on him. Things go way too far — like, full-on sexting — before Franklin discovers the excruciating truth.
Cringiest of all? The director, writer and portrayer of Franklin, James Morosini, now 32, based the story on his real-life experience.
“My dad and I got into a big fight and I decided to cut him out of my life,” Morosini told The Post of an incident when he was 20. “I blocked him on social media. He was really worried about me, but I wouldn’t talk with him. Then one day, I met this really pretty girl online, and she seemed awesome and had all these amazing pictures and the same interests as me. And I started feeling better about myself.
“Then it turned out to be my dad.”
At the start of the film, Franklin is wrapping up a stay at a mental rehab facility after a depressive episode. As part of his recovery, he decides to cut off contact with his compulsive-liar dad, who’s divorced from Franklin’s mom (Amy Landecker) and never manages to be around for his son.
Chuck gets unintentionally terrible advice from a co-worker (Lil Rel Howery) and decides to cook up a fake account to get in touch with his son — by stealing a real name and photos from a friendly waitress (Claudia Sulewski). Over the next several weeks, the vulnerable Franklin gets drawn into chatting online with “Becca,” even after he’s realized he’s her only friend on the site. The chats progress to sexting — which Morosini depicts by intercutting Franklin embracing his imagined Becca and Franklin embracing his father.
Morosini, who’s had roles in “American Horror Story: Roanoke” and “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” seems reticent to go too far into the specifics of what actually went down in the exchange between him and his dad. “It didn’t progress as far as the one in the movie,” he said. “But I’ll say this: It went further than I wish it had.”
As he told the Daily Beast earlier this year, Morosini finally discovered the subterfuge when he looked at his love interest’s email address — which was the same as his father’s. He brought a printout of the Facebook page to a therapy appointment with his dad and confronted him with it — which he says was the beginning of repairing their relationship.
“I thought that in telling this story, I would be able to cultivate some more empathy for my dad,” Morosini said. “I was interested in understanding my relationship with him, from his perspective.” Hence, the film never villainizes Chuck, who clearly knows he’s doing something drastically wrong through this entire episode — even as he’s enlisting his girlfriend (Rachel Dratch) to call his son and dirty-talk to him as Becca.
Morosini says he was nervous for his father to see “I Love My Dad,” which he did at the South by Southwest film festival this spring. “Partway through, he started laughing, and by the end of it, I think he was just very moved by the whole thing,” said the director, who did a Q&A with his dad afterward.
“The catfish — which was a word I never knew before, but I guess I invented it — that’s true,” his father said at the talk-back. “My idea was to have a window into his life.”
In the months since then, Morosini said, others have shared their own super awkward family stories with him.
“I think it’s something we should all be a lot less ashamed about,” Morosini said.
“It’s worth talking about and being transparent about, because all of our families are crazy in one way or another.”