Patton Oswalt knew early on that his latest movie “I Love My Dad,” which involves him playing a father who inadvertently catfishes his estranged son, had the potential to not “just be a bad movie,” but to be “a fiasco.”
“We’re going to shoot for something, and it’s going to either completely work or… wow,” the comedian told TheWrap in a recent interview. “This movie had a script that had so many scenes in it that when I read them, I was like, how are they going to pull that [off]? This could go wrong in so many ways. I’ve never seen anything like this in a film that they’re attempting this.”
Fortunately for Oswalt and director and writer James Morosini, the cringey yet comedic film won the top prize at the SXSW Film Festival, where Oswalt got the chance to simply watch “people crawl out of their skin.” The film is undoubtedly polarizing, putting audiences in the awkward position of knowing what Oswalt’s character is doing is manipulative, creepy and wrong, all while making us root for Morosini’s fake romance as seen through a charming rom-com lens.
That decision though was of course intentional by Morosini, who wrote, directed and stars in the movie and did so all based on his own story of his real life dad actually catfishing him. Morosini took pains within the staging and the editing processes to make sure that Oswalt’s scenes lined up with the fantasy scenes involving Morosini’s fake girlfriend (Claudia Sulewski), to the point that if Oswalt was crossing his arms, Sulewski’s physical mannerisms and placement in the room would be similar.
“I wanted to challenge the viewer. I think we’re trained because of all the rom-coms we’ve seen to be rooting for that primary relationship. And I wanted the audience to find themselves both catfisher and cat fished,” Morosini told TheWrap. “I wanted to see if I could create that dynamic where we’re almost rooting for Patton to try and get back in his son’s life and for this catfishing scheme to work out, but then we’re also weirdly rooting for Franklin and his romantic experience with this amazing person.”
Oswalt praised Morosini’s sense of humor, comparing him to comics like Nathan Fielder and Eric Andre who have a sense for turning “extreme discomfort into comedy.” But he also explained how Morosini as a performer nudged him to avoid straining for laughs and trusting that the comedy would come in the juxtaposition between the high stakes of the catfishing and the charm of the rom-com sequences.
“[Patton] has an incredible ability to balance the light and the dark, and he’s also just such a thoughtful, sensitive and generous artist… He’d often be like, ‘Dude, how is this going to be funny?'” Morosini said. “I was often having to push him further in the direction of higher and higher and higher stakes.”
“This guy is so forthright and blinded by what he’s doing and blinkered by what he’s doing, he doesn’t oftentimes have the wider, wiser perspective,” Oswalt said. “So I had to go against my instinct sometimes and take a much more narrow or limited perspective as to how to solve these problems. I think this character has a much narrower emotional range. He just truly thinks that he is the hero of the story. And there’s no convincing him otherwise, which I think is part of his tragedy.”
Oswalt definitely doesn’t relate to the extreme behavior of his character in “I Love My Dad,” but he is drawn to watching and portraying people constantly trying to “keep their dignity under pressure.” And he hopes that anyone who watches the film takes away that such behavior is still human.
“It’s the transferring of, ‘Oh, look what the world’s doing to me,’ and they very conveniently omit that they are the thing that did that to themselves. I love that level of delusion. It’s just really, really fun to play. And I think it’s very real. I think we do it all the time,” Oswalt said. “I certainly hope that people could look at this very extreme character but then grudgingly go, not to this level, but I’ve done stuff like this to myself and to my friends. I’ve had this level of delusion, this level of idiocy, and I weirdly connect with this. It’s kind of amazing.”
“I Love My Dad” opens in theaters on Aug. 5 from Magnolia.