Film Review: I Love You, Daddy

Louis C.K. flounders with this ill-timed comedy about a man trying to cope with his teenage daughter’s relationship with a famous older filmmaker.
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Rarely has a film been more poorly timed than I Love You, Daddy, Louis C.K.’s story about a successful TV writer struggling to cope with his 17-year-old daughter’s relationship with a notorious “child molester” filmmaker—and that was true before news broke about its headliner’s own sexual misconduct, which has compelled the film’s distributor to cancel its domestic theatrical release. That C.K.’s latest effort would be unfunny in any context is certainly up for debate, given the tepidness of his script. But in light of its writer/director/star’s own abusive misdeeds, as well as the ongoing Hollywood sex-abuse scandals engulfing Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and more, its use of its premise for both awkward humor and father-daughter relationship drama comes across as stunningly misbegotten. And if that weren’t enough, C.K.—shooting in black-and-white and wielding a classical orchestral score straight out of a 1940s movie—is here clearly riffing on Woody Allen’s Manhattan, itself an expression of its author’s less-than-savory taste for pubescent women.

Suffice it to say, all this baggage does little to turn I Love You, Daddy into a jovial time, a situation compounded by C.K.’s desire to view pedophilia—or, at least, grossly inappropriate relations—through a wannabe-nuanced lens. His focus is Glen (C.K.), a celebrated TV scribe and producer who gets his latest nurse-centric show greenlit before it’s even been written. He then promptly fires his lead actress when movie star Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) shows interest in the series—and, more importantly, in him. Dismissing his partner Paula’s (Edie Falco) objections with a misogynistic wave of the hand, Glen proceeds to use his powerful position to bed the younger, pregnant Grace. Despite being comfortable with his own May-December affair, however, Glen vigorously objects when his spoiled, vapid daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz)—who spends her days waltzing about in a bikini, and sweet-talking her father into letting her use the private jet to return to spring break in Florida—strikes up a friendship with Glen’s idol, legendary director Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who just so happens to have a reputation for sleeping with nubile girls.

Glen is thus something of a hypocrite, not to mention a lousy parent who’s coddled his offspring’s worst behavior to the point of turning her into an airhead prone to like an older (father figure-ish) man like Leslie. Nonetheless, C.K.—doing a ho-hum variation on his autobiographical TV-series persona—casts Glen as a decent if flawed dad who just doesn’t want his daughter sleeping with a lecherous creep. That seems reasonable, except that Malkovich then portrays Leslie as likeably weirdo deviant, rather than a repugnant predator. To compound matters further, I Love You, Daddy proves intent on using its central scenario for laughs, replete with pornographic wisecracks (and one masturbation-centric bit straight out of C.K.’s alleged real-life playbook) from Glen’s actor buddy Ralph (Charlie Day), as well a late gag in which Glen makes a disgusting pass at China’s teen friend. It’s the sort of moment that’s so misjudged as to be almost shocking. And it’s part and parcel of a movie that thinks jokes involving wealthy men making light of having sex with kids are amusing. Which they—and by extension the film, save for a couple of Pamela Adlon one-liners—most certainly are not.

A generous reading of I Love You, Daddy might have once argued that C.K. is after an overarching portrait of entertainment-industry sleaziness, with men using their wealth and standing to harm women either actively (via sex) or passively (through neglect, marginalization, and by fostering an atmosphere of inappropriate lewdness). Yet it now resounds as an act of grotesque artistic confession in which C.K. lets himself off the hook for his own odious behavior, content to mildly criticize Glen only for being a neglectful father (and China for not taking responsibility for her actions). Shot like a crummy sitcom and devoid of energy, the film doesn’t censure anyone for condoning, or perpetrating, harassment and abuse, or for perpetuating a status quo in which men exploit and mistreat their female counterparts. Instead, they’re all just quirky, empathetic crazies, including that jolly old pervert Ralph, who sings and dances in the rain during the end credits. Such a perspective would make C.K.’s comedy mirthless in any year; in late 2017, though, with C.K. mired in a mess of his own making, it leaves it clueless to the point of offensiveness.

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