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Patton Oswalt on mastering the art of cringe comedy in I Love My Dad

Many of us have been catfished at least once in our lives. We meet someone online, think they are one thing, and the truth reveals itself: they are not who they said they were or what we hoped they could be. But what if that cute girl or boy you were talking to turned out to be someone you know?  What if the object of your affection online affection turned out to be your father?

Cringy, right? That’s the premise of the new film I Love My Dad, which stars comedian Patton Oswalt (taking a break from fantasy fare like Netflix’s The Sandman and Marvel’s Eternals) as an estranged father desperate to have contact, any contact, with his troubled son (played by James Morosini, who also wrote and directed the film). In an interview with Digital Trends, Oswalt, Morosini, Rachel Dratch, and Claudia Sulewski chatted about making the film, why it’s essential to see it with an appreciative audience, and how cringe comedy can reveal essential truths about the audience that watches them.

Digital Trends: Patton, this is one of your most vulnerable roles. What appealed to you about playing Chuck?

Patton Oswalt: I just thought it was a realistic look at something that I think we’re all guilty of at one point in our lives. It’s the classic “Don’t I get credit for wanting to do the good thing? Wait, I have to actually follow up and do it?”

A father and son sing together in a bar in I Love My Dad.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

We’ve all caught ourselves in wanting all of the privileges of doing good deeds, but none of the responsibilities. I especially think that online life makes that way easier to expect that out of life, to think that you’re entitled to something. The movie really explores the far end of that impulse in a very funny and cringy way.

James, you wrote, directed, and starred in this film. What was the most challenging aspect of making it?

James Morosini: My character Franklin in the film is very shut down emotionally. And so going from a place of being very introverted and totally closed off and then having to jump right back into my role as a director and be supportive and encouraging was quite challenging. I feel so lucky that I was able to tell the story as fully as I wanted to.

Patton and Claudia, you both play different versions of the same role: Becca. Patton, your character impersonates her, while Claudia, you play both the real version and the virtual reality version that pops up throughout the film as part of Franklin’s imagination.

Oswalt: Claudia was really good at playing all the iterations of Becca. If you notice at the beginning when she first shows up in Franklin’s life, her performance is very matter-of-fact. She’s basically reading whatever Chuck is writing. And then as the film goes on, her performance takes on these nuances and you realize, “Oh, this isn’t Chuck anymore. It’s how Franklin wants her to be responding to him.”

In so many online relationships that you’ll have, even if it’s non-sexual with just a friend, you are imagining how they’re responding. In a way, she’s playing three people. She’s playing the real Becca, then Chuck’s Becca, and what Franklin wants Becca to be. It’s really amazing to watch.

Becca smiles at Franklin in I Love My Dad.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Claudia Sulewski: It was fun to also play the role as the stakes were just getting higher and higher because Franklin is falling in love with this imaginary girl. So just as you were saying, Payton, everything becomes more heightened and more emotional.

I think that is what played into the cringe and the horror of also Chuck having to navigate and ask “Where is the line and have we crossed it yet?”

Oswalt: There are a couple of scenes before it all falls apart where Claudia is literally playing it like a romantic movie that Franklin has seen and remembered. And it almost turns into a parody of that kind of acting because that’s what Franklin’s imagining in his head. It’s fantastic to watch.

Rachel, what attracted you to the role of Erica?

Rachel Dratch: I was really fascinated by the fact that the whole script was a true story. I was kind of riveted by it when I was reading it. When the part of Erica came up, I like that it’s comic, but it’s also a little twisted. It’s more grounded than the kind of stuff I usually do. It was still funny. I like walking the line between comedy and the weird.

Patton Oswalt yells at Rachel Dratch in I Love My Dad.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You elicited one of the biggest laughs of the movie. I can’t repeat the line that you said because it’s too graphic, but I think you know which one I’m talking about.

Dratch: That’s what I like about her. She keeps you guessing. She looks kind of mousy, but she’s really dominating. I liked all those different sides of the coin with her.

What was your favorite scene to film from the movie?

Morosini: For me, I was shooting a lot of these scenes in juxtaposition with one another, so it was fun kind of creating this puzzle throughout the film where I needed a scene that we’re shooting to match a scene that we had shot or were going to shoot. I was having to look at it in a connected way throughout the whole process. It was a creative challenge, but it was also really fun as well.

Dratch: My favorite thing as an observer was watching how James pieced the movie together. I felt that was really masterfully done. And then my favorite part to shoot was probably the phone call when Patton is coaching me on what to say to James’s character. It’s fun not knowing I was being fooled, but just trying to do the job right. And Patton’s frantic behavior was funny just to watch.

Sulewski: I think there was so much physically that was so fun because I had so much to play with, whether it was eating cereal on top of the kitchen counter, literally walking on water, or stepping out of freezers. I think that was really fun to play within that carefree space where it doesn’t really matter how Becca’s moving and navigating the world because she’s not real.

What do you want the audience to take away from I Love My Dad after they watched it?

Sulewski: For starters, it’s a film about a father and a son. And I think in many ways, watching it makes me want to call both my parents and understand them. The film really showcases miscommunication and misunderstanding. And I think everyone experiences a little bit of that. Not everyone knows exactly how to communicate their emotions. And I think the film just takes it to the highest extreme.

Franklin sits at his computer in I Love My Dad.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Morosini: I mean, the movie’s been so fun to watch in theaters. I really hope people go see it in the theater because it’s fun to watch it collectively in that way.

I’ve had a couple of people come up to me after and say things like, “I haven’t talked to my dad in five years, but I’m going to call them this afternoon.” And I hope that people maybe feel a little more inclined to look at the perspective of someone in their life that they’re having a tough time with or maybe be slightly more open to considering forgiving them in one way or another.

Oswalt: I just hope people get to have the experience to actually see it in a theater because. And Claudia and I can both tell you because we know we watched it with an audience in South by Southwest and the way the audience reacts, watching this is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a movie. You are just crawling out of your skin, but really having fun doing it. It’s one of those great movies where a lot of conversations in the lobby happen afterward.

Dratch: I will say two things. One is I agree with James and Patton in that audiences should see I Love My Dad in the theater, the cringe factor really adds to the fun of it. Second, what I like about the movie is that no one’s really all good or all bad in it.

Yeah, I agree. I really like this movie. I think it changed my life. It inspired me to delete all my fake social media accounts.

Oswalt: [laughs] Well, then we know that our job is working.

I Love My Dad is currently playing in select theaters and will be available on digital August 12.

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Jason Struss
Section Editor, Entertainment
Jason is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast whose love for cinema, television, and cheap comic books has led him to…
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