Louis C.K.’s “I Love You, Daddy” is one of the most disturbing movies you’ll never see.
Last Thursday, just before the New York Times broke the story in which five women told stories of sexual misconduct by Louis C.K. (who would confirm the stories the next day), the distribution company The Orchard canceled a premiere event that was to be held at New York’s Paris Theater.
One imagines Louis C.K. had been particularly keen for that particular premiere, given “I Love You, Daddy” is on one level an homage to the films of Woody Allen — and it was just outside the Paris Theater was where Alvy Singer conjured Marshall McLuhan in the famous in-line argument scene in “Annie Hall.”
A day after the premiere was canceled, The Orchard (which spent $5 million to acquire the black-and-white semi-romantic comedy) announced it would not be moving forward with the Nov. 17 limited release of the film.
And so, in the oh-so-dubious “tradition” of Jerry Lewis’ infamous Holocaust debacle “The Day the Clown Cried,” writer-director-editor-star Louis C.K.’s film will essentially be locked in a vault, never to be seen again. (Although in today’s cyber-hacking world, I wouldn’t bet against pirated copies surfacing online.)
By the time I screened “I Love You, Daddy,” it already seemed like a doomed project. This is why I’m not writing the standard-format one- to four-stars review.
However. Given the movie challenged us to separate the artist from the art even as real-world events were making it impossible to do so, I’d like to tell you why it was a really, really, REALLY smart decision by The Orchard to yank this film before it reached the public starting line.
“You shouldn’t say stuff like that about someone you just hear stories about. His private life is nobody’s business.” – Louis C.K.’s character in “I Love You, Daddy,” defending a veteran director with an at-best dubious past.
“I Love You, Daddy” is a technically impressive film — not only a tribute to Allen’s “Manhattan” (and his Manhattan) but shot almost as a musical without songs. The rich, black-and-white cinematography; the beautiful sets; the lush score reminiscent of musicals from the 1930s and 1940s; even the closing credits, with the actors appearing to break the fourth wall and acknowledge as if taking a bow … all very well done.
And all rendered meaningless by the unmistakable stench of creepiness, narcissism and hypocrisy permeating the story.
Louis C.K. plays Glen, an enormously successful TV showrunner and divorced father of a 17-year-old daughter named China (Chloe Grace Moretz).
We first see China as she enters the living room of her father’s expansive townhouse as her dad is chatting with his buddy, a foul-mouthed comic named Ralph (Charlie Day). China is wearing a bikini. She prances about, calling her father “Daddy” and making rich-girl demands. At no point does anyone mentions how strange it is for this girl to be in a bikini, at night, indoors, in front of her father and his friend.
Glen recasts the lead in his newest TV series and gives the role to Rose Byrne’s Grace, in large part because he’s interested in dating Grace.
In an effort to impress his daughter, Glen takes China to a party at Grace’s house. There they spot Glen’s hero: one Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a legendary writer-director who is clearly based on Woody Allen.
“Isn’t he a child molester?” says China.
“That’s just a rumor!” retorts her father.
Shortly thereafter, the 68-year-old Leslie becomes involved with 17-year-old China, while Glen frets and worries but does nothing to intervene (although he has no problem angrily “mansplaining” feminism to his daughter and telling her she knows nothing of the fight for equality).
Each of the main male characters in “I Love, You Daddy” seems to represent different facets of Louis C.K’s being.
There’s Glen, of course — the talented, schlubby, cynical, admittedly difficult writer who doesn’t blink at using his showbiz status to advance his sexual and/or romantic interests.
There’s Leslie, the profoundly talented genius dogged by rumors and stories of questionable behavior and possibly criminal sexual assault. Ah, but his art is his art, right?
And then there’s Charlie Day’s Ralph, the edgy comic.
Over the years, Louie C.K. has made masturbation a central topic in his TV shows, in his stand-up act, even during interviews. In “I Love You, Daddy,” Ralph the comic graphically mimes masturbating — while he’s in Glen’s office, with Glen’s female associate (Edie Falco) also in the room. They all but ignore him. Hey, that’s just Ralph being Ralph! What are you gonna do, right?
At one point Glen delivers an apology to an ex-girlfriend, saying, “I’m sorry, women. On behalf of all men, please, [I’d like to] let you all know that I’m very sorry.”
It’s arguably the closest thing to an honest moment of self-reflection in the entire film.