Plenty, as Morosini demonstrates in a film that’s exponentially more intriguing for the fact that it’s based on a true story. Morosini’s father really did assume a young woman’s identity to reconnect with his son, resulting in perhaps the creepiest case of catfishing in internet history. But what could be framed as a dark morality tale of severe boundary violations and victimization instead becomes something warmer, funnier and far more forgiving than the semi-deranged protagonist at its center might deserve. Morosini isn’t out to settle scores with “I Love My Dad,” whose title isn’t in the least bit ironic; rather, he’s interested in something bigger, having to do with self-deception, the limits of love and the peculiar individual hells we manage to reach by way of our best intentions.
That “I Love My Dad” is sweetly accessible rather than uncomfortably mortifying has everything to do with Morosini’s choices, from his mordantly observant screenplay to casting Patton Oswalt as Chuck. In any other hands, this bumptious, borderline narcissistic character would be too obnoxious to root for on any level; Oswalt doesn’t shy away from playing those notes, but he adds generous layers of vulnerability, clueless naivete and native goodwill. There are hilarious moments to be had thanks to Chuck’s best friend Jimmy (Lil Rel Howery) and girlfriend Erica, whose vulgar commentaries are delivered with flawless deadpan straightforwardness by Rachel Dratch.
“I Love My Dad” walks a vertiginous tightrope between making light of its touchy subject matter and simply trivializing it, a tonal feat the actors handle with professionalism and dexterity, especially as the stakes get higher. Morosini acknowledges the surreality of it all by way of ingenious staging and editing, whereby Chuck and Becca change places scene by scene, depending on whom Franklin thinks he’s talking to. The effect is both graceful and poignant, with Morosini — whose handsome, hangdog face perfectly expresses his character’s precarious self-image — holding space for emotions that are simultaneously exhilarating, confusing and supremely fragile.
It will come as no surprise that things don’t end well in “I Love My Dad.” But nor do they end catastrophically. This is a weird and wonderfully expansive story, adroitly executed by Morosini with the compassion to mine it for humanism rather than droll, oddball quirk. By putting viewers inside the strangeness of what happened to him, he provides the audience the rare privilege of genuinely laughing with his characters instead of at them.
R. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Bryant Street; available Aug. 12 on demand. Contains sexuality and strong language. 90 minutes.