I Love You, Daddy (2017)
Written & Directed by Louis C.K.
Glen is a television producer/writer/showrunner with a 17-year-old daughter, China that has him wrapped around her finger. She’s come to enjoy the very privileged lifestyle he can provide her and seems somewhat aimless when it comes to her direction in life. Glen strikes up the chance to cast a famous Hollywood actress in his show and while attending one of her parties China meets Leslie Goodwin. Goodwin is an arthouse writer-director in his late 60s surrounded by rumors of a proclivity for underage women. China is at first repulsed but, much to Glen’s horror becomes increasingly enthralled with the worldly older man. Glen has to decide what is more important: the love of his daughter or her well-being.
I didn’t pick this movie to review so that I could gloss over the recent revelations about its writer-director. I will get into that as it pertains to the film. It has become impossible to talk about this movie without addressing those accusations. But first I want to examine the film on its own, as the next stage in Louis CK’s artistic output and what it says about the direction he is/was going.
I Love You, Daddy is an incredibly aesthetically pleasing film for the most part. It is a cheaply made film, but C.K. has worked on low budgets for most of his career. This picture adopts the black and white look he seems to love in his older short film work, mixed with music and tropes from 1930s/40s melodramas. There is also a direct visual and thematic reference to the work of Woody Allen, in particular, Manhattan. Manhattan is a vastly better shot movie than I Love You, Daddy. It’s pretty much better in every possible way a film can be.
Where I Love You, Daddy deeply disappointed me was the shift of C.K.’s comedy. His television series focused on a more ground-level style of comedy. Not to say he was making working-class sitcoms, but there was a grittiness and reality to what was happening on the FX program. The setting of this movie is among wealthy, show business elites. The entire set up made the film incredibly unrelatable from that point of view. There’s talk of private jets, and China has a lavish 18th birthday party near the film’s conclusion. Every element of this work feels like a drastic shift from the perspectives of Louis and the Pamela Adlon vehicle Better Things.
Then we get to the themes of the picture. The entire plot of the film centers around a relationship between a 68-year old man and a 17-year old woman. Spoiler. They never have sex, and it is never entirely disclosed if any of the rumors around the Goodwin character are true or not. What we do learn about his that he frequent Barney’s department store to ogle high school girls who come there in the afternoons. He does confess to enjoying the company of women who are developing into their Self. Everything is walking such a fine line, and I don’t want to assume the intent, but it sure as hell feels like C.K. has written an apologetic for his idol, Woody Allen.
There is a brief monologue near the end delivered by one of China’s school friends, Zasha who talks about being attracted to Glen when she was 14 and how everyone is a pervert and so that’s okay. I found it very hard to believe this was her character’s voice and not C.K.’s as the writer. And that happens often. C.K. has written himself as the role of the continually saying “This is wrong!” putting him in the position of the being “the good guy.” However, the film goes on to mostly pat Glen on the back about how unenlightened he is about sex and women. Multiple female characters pooh-pooh Glen for being oh so philistine about the situation. They tell him it is China’s choice if she wants to be in the company of Goodwin and that no harm can come from it. The plot even has Glen losing his leading actress, the deal for his show, and eventually his own daughter because he just can’t stop obsessing over the inappropriateness of China and Goodwin’s relationship.
The accusations against C.K. that came in this current tidal wave of sexual assault revelations struck me pretty hard. I loved his series on FX and had been listening to his stand up for years. My personal favorite topic of his material were his bits about being a parent. He never flinched at talking about the gross, frustrating, and shocking parts of raising kids. It was a very refreshing point of view. Sarah Silverman spoke in the wake of Louis’ admission of guilt that she felt deep conflict. She was angry for these women that Louis had violated, but also deeply sad for her friend of 20+ years because he’d fucked his life up so badly. That’s a conversation that has been going on since Roman Polanski raped an underage girl and Woody Allen’s molestation charges came to light. Can we separate the art from the vile actions of an artist? Some people buy and treasure paintings by John Wayne Gacy, for god’s sake. But I am of the firm opinion that the art has to be a reflection of the artist in some way. I can’t imagine how to create art without personal experience coming into play.
I Love You, Daddy, regardless of whether these accusations had come to light or not, is not a good film. Purely from a filmmaking point of view, it is sloppy and poorly written. I laughed maybe once. There are the seeds of what could have been a good film about the difficulties of raising a young adult. If the film had been about the tension growing between Glen and China, we could have had something that developed those comedy pieces about parenting into something more mature and thought-provoking. The addition of the Woody Allen surrogate and the problematic plot that went with it ruined the film. I find myself wondering if this will be the last piece of art we get from Louis C.K., at least for awhile. That might not be a bad thing.