Louis C.K. made “I Love You, Daddy” before bombshell stories were published about sexual misconduct of powerful men in entertainment, but its release was horribly timed.
The movie, about a prominent TV producer-writer grappling with his teenage daughter’s relationship with a much older director (and rumored pedophile), debuted at a film festival just a few weeks before the Harvey Weinstein headlines, and its New York premiere was canceled after five women accused C.K. of misconduct last week in the New York Times.
The comedian said the stories about him were true, and “I Love You, Daddy” — with a trailer that had already attracted criticism — lost its distributor. The Orchard dropped the movie written, starring and directed by C.K., and now with its fate unclear, audiences may never see what the controversy was about.
But the film had already screened for select audiences, allowing for plot details to be made public. Here’s a rundown of what happens:
“I Love You, Daddy” follows TV writer-producer Glen Topher, played by C.K., who has received yet another career opportunity, but has hit an artistic slump.
Meanwhile, his aimless 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) has asked to live with him instead of her mom (Helen Hunt). As Glen’s bitter ex-wife says, he’s got the nice home, private jet and place in the Hamptons, while she lives in a dump.
The first time the audience meets China, she’s floating around her father’s luxury Manhattan home in a tiny bikini, having just returned from spring break in Florida.
“I love you, Daddy,” China says after nearly every interaction with her father. Glen’s ex-girlfriend, played by Pamela Adlon, explains why that’s not actually a sign of good parenting: “A girl that age is getting into trouble and if she loves her daddy that means you’re doing nothing,” she says.
We see Glen struggle with his daughter’s requests — skipping classes to go back to Florida and then extending the trip — but eventually acquiesce to them. Oh, and not even 10 minutes into the film, Glen drops the n-word while translating a slur from another language.
Yeah, it’s a minefield.
But the main tension comes when Glen has to navigate China’s growing closeness with Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who is an artistic idol to Glen but has a reputation for dating very young women — and has been rumored to be a pedophile. It’s a story line alluding most closely to Woody Allen. At the movie’s Toronto Film Festival premiere, C.K. “nasally paraphrased” Charlie Day when he read the script as saying, “This is about Woody Allen, right?” Slate reported. The movie also resembles Allen’s “Manhattan.”
There are other uncomfortable parallels to the C.K. allegations. In the film, the agent for a big movie star, Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne), calls Glen to say she’s on the way to his office to talk about a part in a show. Glen takes the call over speakerphone, and the entire time he’s talking about Grace to the agent, his actor friend (Day) mimics masturbating. It lasts about 45 seconds.
Later, to help Glen repair a minor falling-out with China, Grace invites them to her house for a party where Glen sees his idol across the room. “I’ve wanted to meet him my whole life,” Glen says.
“Isn’t he a child molester?” China asks.
“Allegedly,” Glen adds. “You don’t know that, China, that’s just a story.”
“He also dates really young women and he’s what, 80 years old?” she responds.
“He’s a great artist,” Glen says, “probably the best.”
They all meet, but Glen and Leslie have zero chemistry. Grace later tells Glen that Leslie like to come to such parties to “scam on all the young girls” and “he’s an old perv.” She laughs about it.
Elsewhere, Leslie has found China and is rattling on about feminism. She confronts him about the rumors, and Leslie eventually says what he knows about a person is based on what he sees in front of him: “If I read something terrible about you later, I won’t believe it.”
The audience never fully hears the substance of such rumors, just that they are stories that people talk about.
Eventually, Leslie and China run into each other at Barney’s, where the film auteur admits he likes to go to watch young, elite Manhattan girls. (And yeah, she eventually tries on bathing suits for him).
Glen is flabbergasted when he finds out the two spent time together at Barney’s (and that Leslie canceled their lunch while he was hanging out with China instead). The admiration gives way to worry, and when Glen finds out via a third party that Leslie has invited China on a group trip to Paris, he’s incensed.
But Glen can’t fully articulate, in a compelling way, why this is so horrifying. Instead, the arguments as to why this situation may not be so morally troubling fall to the women in the film, especially Grace, who herself once dated Leslie and, at 15, had a relationship with a 50-year-old. When Glen protests that his daughter is a minor, just 17, Grace retorts, “Come on, Glen. It’s a number. A person isn’t a number.”
Toward the end, one of China’s friends talks about how she once crushed on Glen and used to make out with her cousin. “Everybody’s a pervert, I’m a pervert, who cares how old you are, what you are?”
Adlon’s character, who is close with China, does push Glen to crack down on this budding relationship. But for much of the film, we’re left wondering about the nature of the relationship between China and Leslie. She’s clearly intrigued, and he doesn’t seem to hold back on what he thinks but doesn’t make any overt sexual overtures. When Glen confronts Leslie, China walks in and becomes furious and embarrassed.
Once China turns 18, she makes a move. “My friends think I’m crazy,” China confesses to Leslie, who is 68. “It’s how long it takes to make a good man.”
In the end, the tension as to what will happen between Leslie and China dissipates (the two actually don’t do anything physical, we’re led to believe). Glen has a falling-out with Grace — yes, they had sex — and the writer-producer’s career hits a big snag.
From past interviews, the film was supposed to be about the messiness and complexity of people. “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.”
He added: “To me, if there was one thing this movie is about, it’s that you don’t know anybody.”
That interview took place before C.K. publicly admitted that allegations of misconduct made against him by five women in the Times were true.
“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want,” C.K. said in a statement last week. “I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”