Here we have the most controversial film of 2017, a modest black and white comedy that seemingly overnight went from being one of the year’s most anticipated releases to one of its most reviled. That, of course, is due to the fact that its creator and lead actor Louis C.K. confirmed the sexual harassment allegations that for years have been levelled against him, leading to The Orchard nixing the film’s release (after shelling out a reported $5 million to acquire it and sending out a couple thousand screener DVDs). Critics who’d initially showered the film with praise suddenly condemned it in mass, proclaiming they were “glad it wasn’t released.”
I LOVE YOU, DADDY, self-financed by Louis C.K. and filmed “secretly” in the summer of ‘17, was heavily informed by Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN, a connection that prior to October of ‘17 was viewed as a positive but is now a liability (as Allen was among those targeted in the post-Weinstein era sexual harassment round-up). Furthermore, many commentators now claim to see parallels between the film’s storyline and Louis C.K.’s real-life actions—parallels that apparently went unseen initially (admittedly, the constant masturbation jokes and lines like “On behalf of all women I’m very sorry” and “Everybody’s a pervert who cares?” take on a rather disturbing significance in light of what we now know).
Real life parallels? Let’s see: Louis C.K. plays Glen, a middle-aged television producer. His flirtatious 17 year old daughter China (Chloe Grace Moretz) likes to lounge around Glen’s NYC apartment in bikinis in lieu of finding work or applying to colleges, and he indulges her.
Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), a superstar actress, wants very much to be cast in Glen’s newest production. Glen takes China to a splashy industry party hosted by Grace, of whom China is a huge fan. There they meet the sixtyish Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a renowned New York-based filmmaker whose reputation has been tainted by allegations of pedophilia (the real-life parallel here, at least, is quite evident).
China is initially repulsed by Leslie but finds herself warming up to him after the two have a heartfelt chat about feminism. The following day they meet in a department store—where Leslie is present so he can “look at young girls”—on a day China later describes as “the best time I’ve had in years.”
Glen, meanwhile, accedes to Grace’s wishes and casts her in his latest program, which entails firing the actress he’s already cast. Glena and Grace, unlikely enough, become romantically involved (making this the umpteenth movie in which Rose Byrne is paired with an absurdly out-of-her-league male lead).
China travels to France with Leslie. Glen is opposed to the trip and, in the film’s most contested scene, has an argument with Grace about the morality of May-December romances. The conclusion reached: that age is just a number and that old dudes should be allowed to canoodle with 17-and-younger sexual partners without incident.
But China and Leslie aren’t actually having sex, despite repeated attempts to initiate the act—attempts that are made by China(!). She also grows fed up with Glen’s inconsistent parenting, thus quitting both men, and leaving Leslie to state “What a thing to be loved by a girl and then rejected by the woman she becomes!”
Yes, this film’s values and worldview, in which women passionately argue in favor of relationships with much older men, is certainly questionable, but I LOVE YOU, DADDY is hardly the evil-minded smut-fest so many commentators have made it out to be. That’s despite the excess profanity, and lines like “You look like a schwoogie came all over you” and “I just saw your dick go inside her,” included, apparently, to give an edge to the dialogue-heavy proceedings.
The film is, furthermore, filled with industry in-jokes that will be incomprehensible to most of its target audience, and a downright obnoxious up-tempo music score that emulates the bouncy scores of vintage Hollywood rom-coms. Of the actors, only John Malkovich makes any real impression, with Louis C.K. offering yet another variation on his standard befuddled sad sack persona, and Chloe Grace Moretz (who prior to the film’s shelving was set to be the object of an expensive Oscar campaign by The Orchard) is neither as cuddly nor as seductive as her precocious character was apparently intended. On the plus side is the luminous black and white photography by Paul Koestner, which does nothing to elevate the dullness of the proceedings but does at least hold one’s attention.
Ultimately I LOVE YOU, DADDY is neither as brilliant as it was initially proclaimed nor as horrendous as it was later branded. What all the carrying-on about the film and its dropped release have ultimately accomplished was to give it a mystique it doesn’t deserve (screener copies have reportedly sold for upwards of $1000 on eBay). Well done!
I LOVE YOU, DADDY
Circus King Films
Director: Louis C.K.
Producers: Louis C.K., John Skidmore, Dave Becky, Vernon Chatman, Ryan Cunningham
Screenplay: Louis C.K.
Cinematography: Paul Koestner
Editing: Louis C.K.
Cast: Louis C.K., Chloe Grace Moretz, Rose Byrne, Charlie Day, Edie Falco, Pamela Adlon, Ebonee Noel, Helen Hunt, John Malkovich