Toronto 2017: Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy

On Film / The Daily — Sep 17, 2017

There’s no getting around the loaded real-world context on this one. For the Daily Beast, Richard Porton begins with the “various accusations about [Louis C.K.’s] supposed sexual misconduct, which have been floating around for years since a 2012 Gawker story outlined the rumors, have resurfaced. Claims that C.K. coerced various women, including fellow comedians, to watch him masturbate are the talk of the blogosphere, despite the fact that the man hailed by many as the one of the most inventive entertainers of his generation has neither confirmed nor denied these allegations. Tig Notaro, whose One Mississippi lists C.K. as an executive producer, has been especially vocal, telling the Daily Beast’s Matt Wilstein that if the accusations are true, the comedian’s inappropriate bouts of self-pleasuring are not merely eccentric but constitute acts of bona fide sexual assault. Given this mini-scandal, C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy resembles a farcical hall of mirrors.”

It’s also, as Ignatiy Vishnevetsky is quick to point out at the A.V. Club, “about Woody Allen. But the more general subject is lenience, a masochistic study of a man beset by all the slack he has cut for the things and people he loves out of a fear of not living up to their expectations. C.K.’s character, Glen, is a sitcom showrunner who has never reconciled his hero worship of the witty, neurotic writer-director ‘Leslie Goodwin’ (John Malkovich) with the aging filmmaker’s reputation as a creep; he has also never figured out how to say no to his spoiled 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), which becomes a real problem when she starts spending time with his idol. A literal ‘What if it was your daughter?’ scenario . . . , presented in the form of a shoestring production: spotty sound, visible boom mics, etc.”

“Shot on 35 mm black-and-white film stock, with a lush orchestral score and curlicued opening titles, I Love You, Daddy is styled like a classic Hollywood movie,” notes Sam Adams at Slate, “but its moral murk is decidedly contemporary. C.K.-ian, even. C.K. puts his character, who is wealthy and respected but running low on inspiration, on both sides of every argument, and sometimes in the middle.”

“A brutally and often uncomfortably funny comedy, it dances around female victimization and male exploitation, and plays with the ostensibly blurry line between the personal and the public,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “That makes it feel like a near-documentary about the entertainment industry, as well as a kick-me sign pinned squarely on its creator’s white, male, middle-aged posterior. . . . If Jordan Peele’s Get Out is this year’s defining American movie on race, I Love You, Daddy may prove its corollary on sexual politics, a bountiful and oh-so-topical Trump-era piñata waiting to be whacked open.”

Dan Sullivan for Cinema Scope:I Love You, Daddy satisfyingly, nauseatingly delivers on the promise that C.K.’s Louie flashed here and there—namely, that its creator/star had an iconoclastic, profoundly uncomfortable and uncomfortably profound film somewhere within the bounds of his Nietzschean imagination.” Its “aesthetic shouldn’t so much recall Allen’s yuckiest greatest hit (Manhattan) as darkly conjure the white male ego’s endless system of delusions, never more dangerous than when ineptly put in the service of trying do the right thing. ‘I’m sorry, women,’ Glen offers at one point—an apology that’s excruciatingly funny in context but also impossible, and too little too late in a messy world ruled by privilege and fame and everywhere marked by the damage wrought by dumb men.”

“Four years ago, I Love You Daddy would have been a stand-out three-episode arc of Louie, with a few dozen less ‘fucks,’” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear. “Instead, he’s just given TIFF one of the strongest audience-baiting, throught-provoking, gut-busting, conversation-starting entries of the festival—a minefield that’s worth skipping through even as the shrapnel threatens to blow back at him and you.”

“Really, what’s most exciting about I Love You, Daddy,” writes Noel Murray at the Playlist, “is that it seems to dare TV and movie bloggers to write tongue-clucking hot takes about it—while, at the same time, defying any simplistic unpacking of its ‘message.’ This isn’t a film that offers progressive art-house audiences very many applause lines (aside from one particularly sharp barb aimed at Donald Trump). It doesn’t tell viewers what Louis C.K. thinks; it only says what Glen Topher thinks. And even Glen changes his mind a lot.”

I Love You, Daddy has a wandering, unpredictable camera following loose dialogue scenes one moment and then counters them with sharper, more precisely cut conversations the next,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. “There's even a fabulous use of that favorite Brian De Palma tool, the split diopter, which C.K. uses exceedingly cleverly when China tells her dad about a run-in with a lascivious Leslie “in the girls’ shorts department of Barney’s,” where the film cuts across perpendicular angles to accentuate the father’s astonishment, the suddenly empowered, storytelling daughter, and the conversation’s moral disorientation. Whether directing an anything-can-happen episode of Louie or the baffling challenge of evolving old school conventions with Horace and Pete, Louis C.K. is obviously one of the few American directors unafraid of dramatic discomfiture or formal risk.”

“Edie Falco is by far the best thing about it,” argues Jada Yuan at Vulture. “Freaking national treasure, that one. Now, there are plenty of fine performances . . . But it’s Falco, as Glen’s hilariously beleaguered production manager, who is a full-on delight in every moment she’s onscreen—most of which involve her storming into a room to yell at Glen for some impossible dilemma his arrogance has gotten them into.”

“Scenes sprawl, digress, and reveal character with tart-tongued observational flair,” finds Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “At the same time, C.K., who edited the film himself (as he does his TV series), piles up scenes as if he were stacking episodes on top of each other. A number of those scenes are terrific: laugh-out-loud funny, and with much to say about the state of the new beleaguered middle-aged male. But the film meanders, and its second half is shapeless.”

“C.K. has proven to be one of TV’s best directors with Louie and Horace and Pete, but his adept camera work is absent here,” argues Daniel Schindel at the Film Stage. “Worse is the total absence of one of his greatest strengths: his willingness to use silence at length for both dramatic and comedic heft. . . . As a thinkpiece generator, it is absolutely spectacular—by every other metric, it’s a failure.”

“Lensed by C.K.’s frequent cinematographer Paul Koestner, I Love You makes the most of its stagy, talk-heavy script by playing up the story’s intimacy,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson. “At over two hours, the film feels flabby and redundant, but [Rose] Byrne, Moretz and Malkovich adroitly create multi-dimensional characters who we think we can peg early on. More skilled as a writer and director than as an actor, C.K. doesn’t have the dramatic heft of his co-stars, but he sincerely projects Glen’s frustration and uncertainty, arriving at the kind of nicely understated finale that Allen has made his specialty.”

More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B), Christopher Machell (CineVue, 4/5), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), and Vikram Murthi (RogerEbert.com). Interviews with Louis C.K.: Matt Grober (Deadline), Tatiana Siegel (Hollywood Reporter), and Steven Zeitchik (Los Angeles Times).

Update, 9/18: “There’s a sense that we're simultaneously looking through several glasses darkly, that C.K. is examining our very modern obsession with peoples’ personal lives (his own checkered one very much included), as well as whether it’s possible to separate art from the artist, through a film that feels out of its time, and not always in the best ways,” writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. “Malkovich’s Goodwin, however, is an indelible creation that trades on and complicates the actor’s icky reptilian magnetism, somehow making his character's libertinism both philosophical and principled.”

Updates, 9/24: “CK’s brash, savvy humor still kills and here be some Hard Truths about entitlement of all sorts,” grants Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold. “But he’s managed in a single feature (and a show or two) to attain Allen-esque levels of highly evolved self-conscious shtick that seems to consume itself instantly.”

“The brilliant twist in I Love You, Daddy comes with the fact that the arrogant, creepy prick Goodwin gets redeemed as a moral subject, which in a way is still a tribute to the somewhat quaint notion that cinema is about ideas while television is about entertainment only,” writes Bert Rebhandl for frieze.

Update, 9/27: “After acquiring Louis C.K.’s latest film I Love You, Daddy out of the Toronto Film Festival for a reported $5M, The Orchard will open the film on Friday, November 17 in New York and Los Angeles, with an expansion on December 1,” reports Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro.

Updates, 11/3: “The undisguised perversity in the title of Louis C.K.’s new film bespeaks its general tenor of depravity and self-awareness,” writes Aliza Ma in Film Comment. “The enjoyment factor heavily depends on one’s level of sympathy toward the overall Louis C.K. project.”

For Michelle Orange at 4Columns, “I Love You, Daddy, a limp showbiz parable disguised as a work of personal and moral reckoning, is most credible as an elegy for a fading archetype—that of the great male artist. . . . Part of the dissonance—aesthetic, moral, tonal, perspectival—that characterizes I Love You, Daddy derives from its exploration of relations between men and women living in a world inflected not by old Hollywood tropes but a culture of pornography. As with much of C.K.’s work, sex and dating—as opposed to love and romance—define these relations, which are cast in terms of winning and losing, successful and failed transactions. All parties are reduced by this predicament, none more so than the coarsely sexualized China, who appears most oblivious to it.”

Updates, 11/10: The New York TimesMelena Ryzik, Cara Buckley, and Jodi Kantor report that “after years of unsubstantiated rumors about Louis C.K. masturbating in front of associates, women are coming forward to describe what they experienced. Even amid the current burst of sexual misconduct accusations against powerful men, the stories about Louis C.K. stand out because he has so few equals in comedy. In the years since the incidents the women describe, he has sold out Madison Square Garden eight times, created an Emmy-winning TV series, and accumulated the clout of a tastemaker and auteur, with the help of a manager who represents some of the biggest names in comedy. And Louis C.K. built a reputation as the unlikely conscience of the comedy scene, by making audiences laugh about hypocrisy—especially male hypocrisy.”

I Love You, Daddy’s distributor, the Orchard, is now “reconsidering the release plan,” reports Cynthia Littleton for Variety.

Carson Lund most likely wrote his review for Slant before yesterday’s story broke in the NYT: “Louis C.K.'s first theatrical feature as a writer-director since 2001's Pootie Tang wrestles relentlessly, in scene after discomfiting scene, with some of the entertainment industry's most immediate and upsetting issues: the plague of sexual assault, the unsavory legacy of white male privilege, and the ongoing problem of enabling. And the film will, undoubtedly, be rejected by many as the unsolicited penance-seeking of a man around whom such discussions have recently circled. It's also as exhilaratingly honest and unshackled a work as many have come to expect from this auteur of cringe comedy, one that foresees, absorbs, and responds to all possible bile that might be directed its way, knowing full well of the muck it dredges up. Certainly, more can be asked of C.K. as a man, but can more be asked of an artist?”

“There’s no reason to feel remorse for disinvesting affection we sunk into artists who are later revealed to be criminals or abusers,” argues Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture. “There’s no reason to have qualms about stamping their work ‘Of Archival Interest Only’ and moving on to something new—not just new work, but a new paradigm for relationships in show business, and all business. The women who came forward opened themselves to being ostracized and re-traumatized. The only reason they spoke up is to make show business, and the world, safer and more humane. Time to listen.”

Updates, 11/11: “I watched it not as a critic preparing to summarize its merits or flaws to an audience of readers curious whether it was worth their time to see it,” writes Slate’s Dana Stevens, “but as a sickened and disappointed fan, saying an unsentimental but still sad goodbye to one of her cultural crushes. Under those circumstances, I Love You, Daddy seemed less like a movie than like a series of symptoms presented, with shocking directness, for the viewer’s clinical consideration.”

The Orchard’s “decision to cancel the release of the film is welcome,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. I Love You Daddy “is a disgusting movie that should never have been acquired for distribution in the first place.” It’s “an act of cinematic gaslighting, an attempt to spin the tenets of modern liberal feminism into shiny objects of hypnotic paralysis. The movie declares that depredation is liberation, morality is tyranny, judgment is narrow-mindedness, shamelessness is creativity, lechery is admiration, and public complaint is private vanity.”

“The film, which centers on the sexual machinations of powerful men, reeks of impunity,” adds Alexandra Schwartz, also writing for the New Yorker. “Like so many of Louis’s standup jokes that purport to skewer the grossness of men, it could only have been made by a person confident that he would never have to answer for the repulsive things he’s long been rumored to have done, let alone be caught—if I may borrow a choice word from the recently disgraced Leon Wieseltier—in a major moment of public ‘reckoning.’”

“If there’s one thing we know for sure about people who are accused of indecent exposure, it’s that the thrill of getting away with it is the true source of their power,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com. “In retrospect, much of Louie now plays like a dry run for what he’d do on the big screen with I Love You, Daddy. The show exposes its true self deftly enough that you aren’t sure you saw what you saw. This film leaves the raincoat open while its owner makes eye contact and dares you to deny what’s happening. My notes consist of a single sentence: ‘It’s like he's rubbing it in our faces.’”

It’s a film that “should never have come out at all, unless it was going to be used as a primer for how conversations about power and consent get mishandled, muddied, and ultimately used to excuse or obscure abusive behavior,” writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed.

Update, 11/12: “I was 18 when I saw Manhattan,” writes Manohla Dargis in a new piece for the NYT, “and I despised it because I knew that its reveries were built on a lie that few adults, including film critics, seemed willing to acknowledge. Perhaps that’s partly why I appreciated I Love You, Daddy the first time I saw it. Louis C.K. seemed to be pointing at Mr. Allen with a queasy homage that was getting at the truth of Manhattan even as I Love You, Daddy circled—and circled—its own creator’s complicity in female exploitation.”

Update, 11/14: “This is a weird, unpleasant movie that lashes out and scolds you from a defensive crouch,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR.

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