After multiple women came forward with stories of sexual misconduct perpetrated against them by Louis C.K., The Orchard pulled his film I Love You, Daddy (written, directed by, and starring C.K.) from its release schedule, just a week before it was set to come out. Considering the nature of the accusations, C.K. confessing to their truth, and the subject matter of the film, there was really no other choice for The Orchard to make, despite having paid $5 million for the distribution rights. Whenever entertainers get caught up in scandal, the viability of their projects is called into question, both financially and ethically. In this case, that is especially true, as I Love You, Daddy is astoundingly reflective of C.K.’s own experiences.
I Love You, Daddy will likely never see the light of a full theatrical release, but it was screening for press up until just a few days before it was pulled from the schedule. It offers plenty that is worth discussing, but I cannot imagine it is something that any potential viewer could ever unabashedly enjoy, even if C.K. had never masturbated in front of women without their consent. The premise reads like the worst possible idea that can be conceived in light of this story coming out. C.K. plays Glen Topher, a TV writer/producer (he’s pretty much basically playing himself) who tries to prevent his 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace-Moretz) from dating 68-year-old filmmaker Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who is infamous for his predilection for younger women and has been dogged for years by rumors of sexual abuse.
Did C.K. mean for I Love You, Daddy to be some sort of elaborate confession/apology? (At one point, Glen literally says, “I’m sorry, women.”) Or is he just baiting us, as The Huffington Post’s Matthew Jacobs suggests, into thinking it is something more substantial than it actually is? I can only speculate at his motivation. Perhaps he will speak to that publicly at some point. I often make a point when discussing controversial films to emphasize that portrayal does not equal endorsement, but in this case, that maxim falls short. I can describe for you the specific events that happen in I Love You, Daddy (like one character aggressively miming masturbation in front of others), but I am struggling to figure out what message, if any, it is portraying or endorsing. But considering the subject matter and the real-life context, that ambiguity cannot be defended.
Even if C.K. were not guilty of sexual misconduct, I Love You, Daddy would still be a dicey proposition. Leslie is clearly a stand-in for Woody Allen, who started his relationship with his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, when she was still a teenager and he was in his fifties and who has been accused of sexual abuse by his own children. The film is also a clear homage to Allen’s Manhattan, in which he plays a 42-year-old dating a 17-year-old. Let’s suppose a hypothetical in which Allen and C.K. are both free of controversy, rendering Glen and Leslie both wholly fictional creations. Even in that case, I Love You, Daddy is still creepy and misguided. In its best possible version, it could have seriously grappled with whether or not human beings’ most socially unacceptable urges can ever be morally defended. But that would require a delicate touch that this film simply does not have.