The news that the premiere of Louis C.K.'s feature directorial debut, I Love You, Daddy, has been cancelled in anticipation of a now-published and damning New York Times story in which five women accuse him of sexual misconduct, isn't really surprising to anyone who has actually seen the film.
I had heard the rumours about Louis C.K.'s alleged harassment of women comedians, and read the accounts of reporters whose efforts to report the story were repeatedly shut down. I had skimmed early reviews questioning the timing of an ode to Woody Allen given the conversations we're currently having about sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond. And yet, I was curious. I deeply respect C.K.'s work on Louie, and am a huge fan of his comedy. I had no doubt his film would be controversial, but would it actually be harmful?
It is. The film, which casts C.K. as TV writer/producer Glen Topher who watches, idly, as his 17-year-old daughter China (Chloe Grace Moretz) is seduced by 68-year-old Woody-Allen-esque filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), is obviously a love letter to the director's 1979 classic, Manhattan. And in that respect, it's successful. Shot in black and white with sweeping views of the city and a soaring score reminiscent of Old Hollywood, it's an undeniably beautiful movie.
But that outward gloss conceals a darker core. Throughout the movie, allusions are made to rumours surrounding Goodwin's reputation with young women. "Did you really fuck that kid?" someone comes out and asks him at one point. The directness of the question is meant to elicit laughs, but the fact is that the whole of the action focuses on Goodwin's budding relationship with a 17-year-old — in other words, a child.
The press notes for the movie describe C.K.'s inspiration for the film, which came out of conversations he had with former colleague and friend Vernon Chatman. “We were talking about older generation guys, including legendary filmmakers, who have all kinds of folklore and rumours about them,” C.K. says in the document provided to reviewers. “People you admire and yet have mixed feelings about because you don’t know the real story.” The story continues with, "somehow their discussion led to the idea of 'What if one of them was fucking my daughter?'"
There is definitely a conversation to be had about the sexualisation of young women, and their ability to consent. You can sense C.K.'s attempt at grappling with those issues in the film — often with Rose Byrne, a former protégée of Goodwin's who still invites him to parties to scope out young girls, and whom Topher is currently wooing — but they all kind of fail to say anything meaningful. Perhaps because Moretz's role in this movie is as an object — first to her father, who gives her whatever she wants without seeing her as a person, and then to Goodwin, who delights in being "loved by a girl and rejected by the woman she becomes."
I sat through the two-hour run time with a growing feeling of unease that I couldn't exactly define. It's one thing for someone to make a controversial movie paralleling the allegations made against a personal idol, such as Allen. C.K. has not shied away from those comparisons. "We're at the bleeding edge of 'That's not OK to do now,' but those people are still around," he told The Hollywood Reporter in September. "That's a very interesting line to be on."
But those words takes on a whole new meaning when the director himself has been the subject of such rumours. Suddenly, the plot smacks of lack of self-awareness rather than insight. I simply cannot for one second believe that C.K. was unaware of the rumours surrounding him when he had Charlie Day mime masturbating while discussing Rose Byrne's character. After all, he has repeatedly declined to comment on them.
Today's Times story confirms that rumour, as five women — four on the record, and a fifth who wished to remain anonymous — claim that C.K. either masturbated in front of them, or asked if he could. “He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating," Dana Min Goodman told the Times. (C.K. declined to speak to the Times.)
Earlier this year, Tig Notaro, whose show, One Mississippi, lists C.K. as an executive producer, told The Daily Beast that the comedian had to deal with these rumours head on. “I think it’s important to take care of that, to handle that, because it’s serious to be assaulted,” she said. “It’s serious to be harassed. It’s serious, it’s serious, it’s serious.”
When asked about Notaro's comments by The New York Times, C.K. denied any knowledge of her motives. “I don’t know why she said the things she’s said, I really don’t,” he said. “I don’t think talking about that stuff in the press and having conversations over press lanes is a good idea.”
Which begs the question as to why he then went on and made an entire film about that very issue.
By making this film, he has paved the way for a conversation about himself that he can no longer avoid. "There are these people in the world that we all talk about, and we want to know that they’re all good or they’re all bad,” C.K. told The New York Times in September. “The uncomfortable truth is, you never really know. You don’t know anybody. To me, if there was one thing this movie is about, it’s that you don’t know anybody.”
"So," I Love You, Daddy, seems to ask, "how well do we know Louis C.K?"