Well…that’s unfortunate timing: Oscar screeners sent out by the releasing studio the night before your star’s career implodes.
By Paul Mavis
Louis C.K.’s self-funded comedy, I Love You, Daddy, got yanked (sorry) by The Orchard releasing company when the dominoes started to fall last week on the embattled stand-up comic, who admitted to improprieties (we call ‘em “sex crimes” here in the Midwest) with several female comics. So, baring someone else picking it up or C.K. having the balls to sell it himself on his website, you probably won’t be seeing this review’s movie. Now, full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of the comic (way overrated in service of the agenda). But I’ve been surprised before…and boy was I with I Love You, Daddy: it stinks on ice.
Glen Topher (Louis C.K.) is a weak, douchebag New York TV screenwriter/producer who has a fabulous penthouse and the use of a jet…but also some big-time obstacles, both professional and personal, coming down the pike. It’s already April, and he just got a 12-episode network pick-up for the fall, with no scripts ready, no schedules, nothing, which is driving his harried, put-upon partner Paula (Edie Falco) to a breakdown. Glen’s friend, peripathetic TV comedian Ralph (Charlie Day), registers his admiration/jealousy for Glen’s success by telling him, “F*ck you.” Worst of all, Glen’s sweet, spoiled, manipulative 17-year-old daughter China (Chloe Grace Moretz) is back from spring break…and just itching to skip the re-start of school and fly back down to FLA—a ridiculous indulgence that Glen allows. He can never say no to his directionless daughter.
Glen’s foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend Maggie (Pamela Adlon) is fiercely protective of China, while at the same time dismissive of Glen’s efforts to parent the beautiful teenager. That’s going to be a problem, because when Glen fires his lead actress and hires big movie star Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) just so he can sleep with her, she introduces China to former lover and current dirty old man pervert Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich). Goodwin, a big-time movie director, is a hero of insecure Glen’s…but he’ll soon be an enemy when Glen realizes that China has become besotted with the wily pedophile director.
You can understand how conservative and middle-of-the-road moviegoers in flyover country have watched the latest Hollywood sex scandals with just a bit of smug satisfaction. After all, for the past forty years or so, we’ve been the objects of ridicule and stereotyping at an ever-increasing pace by the makers of television and movies and the news. According to Hollywood and the mainstream media, sex perverts (as well as bigots and racists and homophobes and people who kick dogs and vote for Trump) are Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith in small town/rural/suburban America. We’re constantly told the real problems in society are hidden by those who are the most square, the most “repressed,” the most “normal” (he said a dirty word!) by those out-dated, hurtful, old-timey standards to which we so bitterly cling. So when we see high flying left-of-left libs like Weinstein and Spacey take a career dive, A-listers who have made money off lecturing us how evil we are, when they’re pulling sh*t that would get our asses locked up by sundown, well…it feels pretty good for a minute or two to see them get professionally boned.
And don’t give us you didn’t know, Miss Streep and Miss Clooney and Mr. Damon, and all you other star-studded phonies. You knew. And you kept quiet, until it looked better not to keep quiet. And that’s what’s going on with Louis C.K. and I Love You, Daddy at the moment. The stag has fallen and the pack has turned. Suddenly, this darling truth teller of the liberal set is instantaneously the equivalent of a dirty old perv with his wang hanging out (oh…wait—he is that). Just get a load of the glowing list of reviews on the cover of that “For Your Consideration” Academy screener disc that was sent to me, all from the lovely people at The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Variety, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and New York/Vulture.
Louis C.K. used to serve a purpose for those clowns in the media. He was outrageous and foul-mouthed and deeply troubled and most importantly, “honest” in that self-flagellating (actually self-congratulatory) way, and he scared the straight-laced as an added delicious bonus. He may have said and did things that were verboten in today’s p.c. world, but it was all okay, because he was one of them. The liberal media was in on the gag. “He can say those things. It’s cool. He’s one of us. He’s not really like THEM,” they would assure themselves. Only now…the clown is shown up for what they all knew he was from the start, and the liberal media is flipping their collective lid. That constant flapping in the breeze you hear is liberal critics and pundits doing endless back-flips to either suggest they suspected C.K. all along, but gave him the benefit of the doubt (how progressive of you), or that they were cruelly duped by a sick, evil man. Priceless. Had Louis C.K. projected forward into his career and wrote up this hilariously hypocritical time and place known as “liberal American media” as the plot for his final movie, he might have made a classic.
Alas, he didn’t. He only managed a sub-subpar Woody Allen knockoff, one that wouldn’t have merited a day or two’s worth of discussion had this scandal not broken. Frankly the scandal is far more interesting than this small, narrow, limited little failure. Now, you can go ahead and try and link up the sexual undertones in the movie with the real-life activities of its writer/director/producer/editor/star (something the critics are doing now in some kind of futile ass-saving gesture—ya gotta virtue-signal, kids!).
But you won’t find anything nearly as outrageous and salacious as the newly-converted castigators are suggesting is in there. That’s not because those elements aren’t outrageous—they are (when Grace bests Glen in an argument by making a case for not just 17-year-old China but even 12 and 13-year-old girls being aware and smart enough to know what they want in a much older male sex partner, you have to wonder on what level C.K. buys that). It’s just that they’re not all that outrageous by current Hollywood filmmaking standards. Had C.K.’s scandal not surfaced, I don’t think anyone in the mainstream media would have been bothered by exchanges such as the one above (again—look at that roster of boosters on the disc sleeve). An ever-increasing slice of the Hollywood pie has been rotten for years—C.K. didn’t just bake it.
No, I Love You, Daddy isn’t even edgy enough to stand out from the Hollywood crowd. Indeed, it’s as cliched and familiar as the stylistics of the old-time movies it attempts to affectionately appropriate, what with the big, lugubrious musical cues, the affected, pointless black and white cinematography, and the silly nods to past days, like a cast call cameo for each performer at fade-out. None of that visual/aural arrogation means anything…except possibly as an inopportunely-timed celebration of C.K.’s own assessment that he had “arrived” (timing’s everything, kid…). The borrows aren’t clever enough to be lampoon, and they’re done in such a ham-fisted way they can’t possibly be honest homage. In the directing department, C.K. keeps the pacing and deliveries flat as a pancake (the movie runs an interminable 123 minutes), but pros like Malkovich and Falco at least successfully fight to make some kind of impression (the same cannot be said for C.K. himself, whose D.O.A. vocal talents makes Brian Posehn sound like Mickey Mouse on speed).
C.K. the writer, at least as evidenced by I Love You, Daddy, sounds like he’s never had an original idea in his head, such are the threadbare conceits that pass for dramaturgy here. “Daddy’s not a good daddy because he’s too wishy-washy to spank hot little spoiled brat” pretty much sums up the entire uninspired piece, with some exhausted asides on the celebrity scene, feminism, and the manipulations of dirty old men (the funniest joke in the entire movie is C.K.’s apparent desire to say something meaningful about women and daughters and parenting and feminism, but not before he intros his daughter to the audience…in a string bikini. Caaaaa-lassic, dude!). And since C.K.’s character is such a rudderless nudge, no moral or philosophical or even artistic stance or judgment is taken on any dramatic turn here, and so to pay for that waffling, we’re told that’s the only honest approach to anything (which logically means nothing means nothing…or something. Or whatever). His message, whatever it may be (he doesn’t even know), has about as much weight as Outback Steakhouse’s “No rules” slogan.
Since I Love You, Daddy has effectively been erased from the pop culture (at least for now), there’s nothing left to talk about in Louis C.K.’s career except how far he’s going to fall, and will he ever come back. After watching I Love You, Daddy… who frankly cares?
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.