Greetings again from the darkness. It’s difficult to know whether the biggest story here is the one of the cringiest movies you’ll see or the fact that writer-director-star James Morosini based it on the actual relationship and events with his own father. Morosini opens the film with this: “The following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn’t.” That sounds kinda funny and sets the stage for some father-son conflict. But it certainly doesn’t prepare us for what we are about to watch.
The always terrific Patton Oswalt plays Chuck, the father. We listen to a steady stream of voicemails Chuck leaves for his son over the years, and we know immediately what kind of absentee, break-another-promise father he’s been to his son. Franklin (played by filmmaker Morosini) is finishing up his stint in therapy after a suicide attempt. By his side is his protective and worried and hopeful mother (Amy Landecker). Guess who is not there.
Being that it’s a movie, albeit one based on real life, we wonder if this is going to be a story of redemption for the father, the son, both, or neither. As part of the boundaries set by Franklin after his therapy, he blocks his father from social media. So desperate he is to re-connect with his son that Chuck undertakes a catfishing strategy. Yep, he creates a fake account using the identity of a cute waitress named Becca (a charming Claudia Sulewski) to befriend Franklin and talk about life. Of course, Franklin is so in need of human interaction that he begins to fall for virtual Becca, and Chuck’s mess just gets messier. He even involves his co-worker friend (Lil Rey Howery) and his boss/lover (Rachel Dratch), but who stand opposed to the whole thing.
The story is horribly sad and pathetic, but the actors inject enough levity that we aren’t wallowing in pain while watching. In an innovative step, Becca and Franklin appear together during their texting conversations – well, it’s a virtual representation of Franklin’s imagination. Mr. Oswalt is extremely effective at generating human emotions in a guy that could easily be vilified as public enemy number one. At his core, Chuck is just a well-meaning guy who stinks at being a parent – despite being desperate to connect with his son. As a parent, presence is crucial and much of it is about effort. Desperation can lead to bad decisions, and Mr. Morosini bravely exposes his own turmoil for a film that might hit home to more people than we imagine.