The heart, as Woody Allen famously said when defending his decision to have sex with his de facto daughter, wants what it wants. But the heart of a guilty man is haunted. Is Louis CK’s I Love You, Daddy an attempt to exorcise his own demons or those of his comedy idol? I really couldn’t say. Though I can say the New York Times reported today that five women have come forward to accuse CK of “sexual misconduct.”
When I watched a recent screening of I Love You, Daddy, I was unable to figure out why the film exists. One can only separate the art from the artist when the artist creates art. And I Love You, Daddy is not art.
Shot in 35 mm but resembling a decolorized sitcom, the artlessly framed film showcases CK’s unique talent for making locations resemble particle board sets. It also showcases his talent for rendering you completely incapable of discerning whether or not a comedy is a comedy. The audience I watched it with did so blankly—hell, they didn’t even flinch when CK said the n-word with a hard “r.”
Laughter only rang out once, in response to pantomimed masturbation. The source of the laughter immediately, uncomfortably, shifted in his seat, as if ashamed by the fact he had been caught laughing at an honest-to-godless dick joke. Considering that CK is now openly accused of masturbating in front of several women, the pantomime is even less funny than it was when it was merely not funny at all.
In the film, CK plays Glen Topher, a television writer who has passed his prime. By selling a show he has yet to write, he has bitten off more than he can chew, a situation you probably find profoundly relatable. Who among us can say we haven’t had to write, cast, and produce a show set to premiere in three months?
The film opens with a lingering, lascivious shot of his 17-year-old daughter China (Chloe Moretz)—her mother named her, Glen KNOWS the name is stupid but the thing is, his ex-wife is CRAZY—wearing a bikini, having just returned from spring break in Florida.
Every other woman, save Topher’s sexual interest (Rose Byrne), is remarkably older, and shot in a wholly unflattering manner, the lines on their faces descending like trails of tears. They all dislike our protagonist. The ex-wife, the ex-girlfriend, the producer—all are beleaguered, haggard, and tired of his shit.
Topher’s li’l buddy Ralph (Charlie Day) is a none-dimensional character who speaks in moans (“You know what happens at spring break!”) and constantly watches fuck flicks on his iPhone—perverse games involving men ejaculating en masse. The pornographic horrors of the modern world render Topher flabbergasted, disgusted. He is not ready for his little girl to become an ejaculate receptacle.
Later, at a party, Glen and China meet Leslie Goodwin, the film’s Woody Allen proxy, played by John Malkovich. China dislikes him on sight because she has heard he is, well, a child molester. Topher defends Goodwin’s honor, declaring it inappropriate to judge someone you do not know based on rumors, and insists the private life of a person in the public eye should remain private—virtually the same lines real life CK used a couple months ago when the New York Times asked about his own rumored sexual improprieties.
After all, it’s about the work, not his personal life.
Only when Goodwin makes advances on China, and she acquiesces, does he fall from the pedestal Glen has placed him on. Is that when the art can be separated from the artist? When the artist is, in a literal sense, fucking your daughter?
The film proceeds into a series of exasperated exchanges between Glen and his admittedly privilege-isolated friends, none of whom seem to take umbrage with the fact that his 17-year-old child may be fucking a 68-year-old man. His glamorous (but flawed: She's pregnant!) love interest sees no fault, because when she was 15, she dated a 50-year-old, and she loved it. Glen informs her—and he's sorry to say this—that she was raped. The accusation renders her indignant.
Anyway, Goodwin, in the end, isn’t a kid-diddler, just an eccentric artist who likes watching young girls shop at Barney’s. Sure, he may fetishize their forms, but what really turns his crank is the transient nature of adolescence. When they’re girls, he explains to Topher, they love you. When they become women, that love turns to hate. This sentiment is presented as profound. It is not.
After about an hour and a half of frustratedly rubbing his temples, struggling to exist in a world he doesn’t understand, Glen sits on a couch alongside his daughter's friend Zasha, who femsplains to him that "we're all perverts." Girls are just attracted to older guys, she says as his mouth goes limp. He learns that his own daughter tried to get her ninth grade teacher to fuck her. Zasha says that when she was 14, she wanted to fuck Glen.
After her pervert soliloquy, Glen (all through trying to be a good guy) tries to take her up on her now-four-year-old desire to fuck him. She is aghast. But hold the phone: Zasha said Goodwin wasn’t a bad guy. But somehow he is? Glen recoils, hands in air, his body language imploring "Oh, I'm the asshole?"
This whole dynamic, in which the failed father becomes the outraged victim of a morally incomprehensible world, is clearly meant as a teasing provocation of its audience’s cultural sensitivities, and an effort to take up residence in the “what’s a clueless rich white man supposed to do?” furrow plowed by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
And that’s the problem.
The existence of I Love You, Daddy seems to prove that Louis CK can get away with anything, even if you don’t like it. Hell, especially if you don’t like it. And that, I suppose, was the point.