About an hour after Friday’s announcement that the release of "I Love You, Daddy" was being canceled due to allegations of sexual misconduct by writer-director-star Louis C.K. (that he's now admitted to), a DVD screener of the film arrived on my doorstep along with a letter from the distributor encouraging me to consider it for our critic association’s year-end awards.
I had to laugh, as the bitterly ironic timing was a cosmic insult worthy of “Louie,” C.K.’s groundbreaking FX series that presented a fictionalized version of the comedian’s day-to-day life as an unending procession of surreal humiliations and indignities, most of them well deserved.
I understand how difficult it can be to reconcile when an artistic hero — in this case the most brilliant and prolific standup comic of his generation, whose “Louie” and “Horace and Pete” didn’t just revolutionize how television is made, but also changed our idea of what half-hour comedies could be — turns out to be a pervert and a creep.
After all, I grew up idolizing Woody Allen.
Louis C.K. obviously reveres Woody Allen, too. The influence is all over his work and he even hired the Wood-man’s longtime editor Susan E. Morse to cut a season of “Louie.” (C.K. played a small role in Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which co-starred Alec Baldwin and Andrew Dice Clay. In retrospect, that set must have been something like the “Justice League” for famous dudes with women issues.) "I Love You, Daddy" feels like it was intended as Louis’ reckoning with Our Woody Problem, rolling up his sleeves and pondering the question of how one can continue to admire great artists who have seriously not-great personal proclivities.
... the icky experience of watching “I Love You, Daddy” does feel a bit like one of those procedurals where the serial killer is deliberately leaving clues for the cops, trying to get caught.
Of course this is a question many are asking right now about Louis C.K. himself, so it should probably come as no surprise that his film’s answers are so smug and self-serving. But what’s shocking is just how lame and unfunny the movie is, a near-total misfire that keeps tripping over thinly veiled resentments and can’t get out of its own way.
While it doesn’t exactly read as a full-on confession, the icky experience of watching “I Love You, Daddy” does feel a bit like one of those procedurals where the serial killer is deliberately leaving clues for the cops, trying to get caught.
C.K. stars as Glen Topher, an extravagantly wealthy, hack television writer and single dad who spoils his 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) beyond reason while she lounges around the house all day in a bikini. He idolizes art film director Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who’s notorious for wooing inappropriately young women and is haunted by an allegation of child molestation in his past for which he was never formally charged. (Sound familiar?)
Glen sticks up for his hero Leslie at every opportunity, insisting on separating the art from the artist and it’s all good and well … until the director starts dating his daughter.
This is a killer conceit, one that goes depressingly under-dramatized in this blocky, talky mess of a movie. “I Love You, Daddy” is far more interested in Glen’s tedious creative washout and his failures as a boyfriend than in any of the provocations it plays with. A huge chunk of the movie is a collection of overqualified female co-stars (Rose Byrne, Edie Falco, Helen Hunt and the filmmaker’s frequent foil Pamela Adlon) heaping verbal abuse on C.K.’s character while he slumps inertly and apologizes ad infinitum, overdoing the self-flagellating sad-sack routine he played to perfection on “Louie.”
The writing here is skittish and protective, insisting over and over that salacious rumors are often just nothing but talk, and that nobody outside of a relationship can ever really know what’s going on inside of it. A late-film revelation that Leslie isn’t even sleeping with China comes off like a taunt, chastising the audience for jumping to perfectly logical conclusions in a manner that would be galling in its fundamental dishonesty were it not also so preposterous.
This is a weird, unpleasant movie that lashes out and scolds you from a defensive crouch.
“I Love You, Daddy” was shot on 35mm black-and-white and boasts a brassy symphonic score in an attempt to mimic “Manhattan,” Allen’s queasy 1978 masterpiece about a 42-year-old man’s love affair with a high school student. There’s also more than a sniff of “Stardust Memories” in the film’s jaundiced showbiz milieu, and a climactic, tuxedo-clad confrontation between Glen and Leslie at the Emmys has been staged to match the chilling epilogue of "Crimes and Misdemeanors."
Unfortunately, I think the most relevant homage here might be to Allen’s unfortunate late-career habit of assembling all-star casts to shoot half-realized first drafts.
Will this film ever open? Probably not in theaters, but I’m guessing that once legalities are sorted out and tabloid spotlights fade “I Love You, Daddy” will eventually end up on Louis C.K.’s website, where he’s made a small fortune selling comedy specials and projects like “Horace and Pete.”
For the moment, he’s in exile. Netflix scrapped plans for an upcoming standup show, and FX has severed all ties, relieving C.K. of executive producer duties on the shows “Better Things,” “Baskets” and “One Mississippi.” HBO has even gone so far as to remove his comedy specials and early series “Lucky Louie” from their streaming service, which strikes me as a bit draconian even though there probably aren’t a lot of people who feel like watching them right now.
C.K.’s ghastly behavior brings up all the issues he bungles so badly in “I Love You, Daddy.” Is it even possible anymore to separate the art from the artist, or is doing so letting yourself off the hook for supporting scumbags?
I long ago accepted that beautiful things are sometimes made by ugly people, but can understand and appreciate why others don’t always feel the same way. Wherever you stand, I have a feeling we’ll be continuing this conversation sooner rather than later, as Woody Allen’s 47th theatrical feature, “Wonder Wheel,” is scheduled to open next month.