‘I Love My Dad’: James Morosini on How His Catfish Comedy Helped Him Better Understand His Father

Families are complicated, and even some of the most loving parents end up passing trauma onto their children. While most people can only go to therapy, writer, director and actor James Morosini channeled his own feelings surrounding his complicated relationship with his father into his second feature, “I Love My Dad.” Morosini plays a version of himself, Franklin, a young man dealing with mental illness who decides to cut his father, Chuck (Patton Oswalt), out of his life after years of disappointment. Determined not to lose his son, Chuck goes above and beyond to remain connected to him. Stealing the identity of a local diner waitress, Becca (Claudia Sulewski), he creates a fake social media account and sends a request to Franklin, effectively catfishing his own son.

While Chuck’s actions are at the least questionable, and at the most morally reprehensible, he is motivated by love. During a recent discussion with Entertainment Voice, Morosini talked about the making of “I Love My Dad,” working with his film dad, Patton Oswalt, and how the whole experience helped him better understand his own father.

You’ve stated that this story is based on a real-life experience you had with your own father. Tell us about that.

I got in a big fight with my dad a long time ago and decided to block him on social media. He was really worried about me at the time and wanted to make sure I was okay, but I wouldn’t talk with him about any of it. I got home one day, and this really pretty girl had sent me a friend request online. I was very excited. She had all these great pictures, all the same interests as me, and then I found out she was my dad. My dad had catfished me. I wanted to make a movie using this context as a way of exploring my relationship with him, and trying to understand our relationship from his perspective, and really see what happens when someone does the wrong thing for the right reasons, and does something so unusual that’s driven by love.

Franklin used to worship his dad, but their bond became fractured, and now they’re navigating this new adult relationship. What was it like working with Patton and creating this father-son dynamic?

I love Patton. He’s comedically brilliant, but he also has tremendous heart, and he brings that to everything that he does. I was often surprised by how personal he made it for himself, and how real he made Chuck feel on set, and I think he made the cringey moments that much more palpable, because you’re so invested in his performance throughout.

Chuck passes cringey and ends up somewhere else when he sexts Franklin as Becca using texts sent from his own girlfriend, Rachel Dratch’s character, Erica. Take us inside that crazy and hilarious sequence.

It was difficult trying to piece together multiple sexual fantasies, practical locations, and keep track of where everyone’s mind was in that moment. To me, it was about making those distinctions and seeing how we could blend those realities throughout that sequence. It required a lot of planning to make sure that all that was going to cut together and feel coherent in the end.

You also have these great scenes with Claudia Sulewski as Becca, or Chuck’s version of Becca. Instead of just text bubbles flashing across the screen, the viewer sees what Franklin is imagining.

When I was writing the script, I knew that I couldn’t have the audience just looking at their phones for two hours. We already spend so much of our day just staring at our phone screens. I wanted to really explore what it feels like when you’re texting someone, and it feels like the person is right there with you. You’re anticipating their every reply. You’re projecting the tone of what they are saying. I needed a way to make this whole scheme seem cinematic, and that device of having them appear in person allowed us to. Sometimes you even forget that Claudia Sulewski is actually Franklin’s dad, and this creates another layer of dramatic tension throughout.

You veer into more serious territory in the third act. How did you go about balancing the lighter, more comedic moments with the heavier ones?

I think we’re dealing with some very heavy issues of mental health, so I think, like every relationship, there are both sides to it. There are ups and downs, and I wanted to capture the reality and not just be taking big swings for laughs every moment. I wanted it to feel tactile throughout, and I wanted there to be real stakes that we explored in a grounded way.

What was your biggest takeaway in making this film and how did it impact your relationship with your father?

I think throughout the making of this movie, from the writing process all the way through the editing, it gave me just a sense of –– it helped me appreciate my dad for who he is, not who I wish he was. I think that’s really the main takeaway. I had a lot of conversations with him through the writing process. I watched all of my home videos over and over and over. And, more than anything, it made me just love him all the more in making this movie, and gave me more of a sense of humor around the difficulties we’ve experienced throughout our relationship.

What do you hope viewers gain from the film?

I wanted audiences to hopefully go see it in theaters and just have a great time. It’s a film where I definitely encourage vocalization throughout when it gets uncomfortable. Beyond that, I hope it helps people maybe see one another’s perspective a little more, or be at least a little more inclined to look at someone else’s perspective. That was definitely my intent in writing it. 

I Love My Dad” releases Aug. 5 in select theaters and Aug. 12 on VOD.