TIFF 2017: I Love You, Daddy

Directed by Louis C.K.

BY Josiah HughesPublished Sep 11, 2017

Comedian Tig Notaro recently said she no longer speaks to Louis C.K., even though he's listed as an executive producer on her Amazon show and once released her viral standup special Live. Speaking with The Daily Beast, she also mentioned the allegations of sexual misconduct that have quietly followed C.K. around the web for the last half-decade. The interview prompted Toronto writer Emma Healey to deliver a must-read piece for Hazlitt arguing that C.K. "can't just let his art do the talking."
If the PR rollout for I Love You, Daddy hadn't insisted that the movie was a secret until its premiere, one would think Healey had seen an early rough cut. Her piece is just that spot-on — the film clumsily wades around the allegations, and even contains something of a flippant apology. "I'm sorry, women," C.K. says in his faux-Midwestern nice-guy voice, almost looking directly into the camera; "I'm very fucking sorry." The result is a confusing, muddled mess that doubles as a potent demonstration of privilege at play.
I Love You, Daddy was likely shot in black-and-white for grandiose, cinematic effect, but it reveals C.K.'s intents a little too quickly. It's essentially a straight ripoff of Woody Allen's Manhattan, with some of Stardust Memories' self-analysis thrown in. The film also attempts to comment on Allen's own persistent allegations, though it's never entirely clear what those comments are meant to be.
C.K. stars as Glen, though he's really just C.K. — a wildly successful TV writer whose comedies have launched him into mainstream superstardom. His spoiled, underage daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) is among the many female characters who walk all over him throughout the film, and she gets away with it because she constantly delivers the film's titular phrase.
Seduced by pregnant actress Grace Culligan (Rose Byrne), Glen and China wind up at an elite Hamptons house party, where they're introduced to Lesley Graham (John Malkovich), a neurotic, intellectual filmmaker dogged by rumours of pedophilia. As a fan of his work, Glen repeatedly argues that the 68-year-old filmmaking legend shouldn't be written off because of some "rumours." In I Love You, Daddy, though, every rumour winds up coming true. Lesley takes China under his wing, and the two start a wildly inappropriate relationship despite their 50-year age difference. This causes Glen to panic and attempt to finally create some boundaries in his daughter's spoiled life.
Many will certainly argue that it's unfair to judge C.K.'s film based on his alleged sins. He seems to be wrestling with them here: "Everyone's a pervert," Grace tells Glen, and in this film, most everyone is. Glen struggles with whether or not he should condemn Lesley, but when he's confronted about cheating on his first wife, he sputters and stumbles before loudly defending himself. Later, he delivers the aforementioned (and somewhat sarcastic) apology to "all women."
Outside of its dubious blurring of fiction and reality, the film flails between mediocrity and disaster. Aside from directly cribbing Manhattan, C.K. indulges in his worst impulses, creating nefarious excuses to say the N-word, discuss lewd sex acts with unnecessary crassness and repeat the word "retarded." The film feels way longer than it actually is, and all of the open-mic humour is juxtaposed with a lush orchestra score and black-and-white shots of the Manhattan skyline — think Family Guy shoehorned into the awards-season pretension of The Artist, peppered with some limp critiques of modern feminism throughout.
Louis C.K.'s status as one of this generation's best standup comics was rightfully earned, and he's also proven himself a talented writer and director. As such, there are certainly a handful of solid jokes that land in the film, and some solid performances, too (Malkovich is particularly great) — but tiptoeing around the online Louis C.K. conversation in a meta-comedy feels like a desperate attempt to address the allegations without actually addressing them.
It's a Hail Mary move that ultimately fails; this will likely be the end of C.K.'s relationship with progressives, many of whom once touted him as a welcomely crass voice of reason. He'll now be reduced to a guy that's willing to be "edgy," as evidenced by the uproarious laughter in the theatre every time an incredibly shrill Charlie Day (Louis's in-movie assistant) pantomimed masturbation in front of his female coworkers.
The arguments surrounding Woody Allen frame him as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time — people are wary to dismiss him over so-called "rumours" because they respect his body of work so much. I Love You, Daddy is a lazy Louie episode shoehorned into a Woody Allen movie, making it very clear that C.K. has nothing new to offer. As such, the decision of whether or not to see it is easy — there are plenty of far superior comedic filmmakers out there that aren't surrounded by hushed allegations of perverse, abusive behaviour.
(Circus King Films)

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