Louis C.K. seems to have Woody Allen on his mind in I Love You, Daddy. Not only has he shot this sometimes funny and other times rather queasy New York City comedy in glorious 35mm black-and-white, but a good part of the story hinges on the central character’s suspicion that his teenage daughter has been seduced by a famous 70-ish film director known for his taste for young girls. The comedy favorite’s third feature behind the camera, and his first since Pootie Tang 16 years ago, has enough going for it to score with his loyal audience and other filmgoers curious to see what he’s up to.
The pervasive oddness at the core of this film, which incredibly was shot in June and world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival a mere three months later, is that the man played by the exceptionally prolific director/co-writer/star/film editor is a total sad sack: a hugely successful entertainment figure who at the moment can’t write a word for the new TV show he’s due to deliver, is constantly letting down his production staff and the women in his orbit and, worst of all, doesn’t know how to relate to his bright but directionless 17-year-old daughter China, wonderfully played by Chloe Grace Moretz.
Woody Allen territory in more ways than one.
Louis C.K.’s Glen Topher has it all — a brilliant career, endless money, a private jet and a stunning Manhattan apartment he shares with China, to whom he can never say no. She’s constantly saying, “I love you, Dad,” but the words begin to ring hollow after the umpteenth time, and he hasn’t pressed her to either apply to colleges or line up a job for after graduation.
Meanwhile, Glen’s new proposed TV series gets a green light, but he doesn’t know what to write and mostly hangs around with a loud and brash younger guy, Ralph (Charlie Day), whose role in Glen’s life for a long time remains quite unclear, as all he does is sit around and be incredibly gross — is he a flunky, an assistant, a writing partner, just there to make the boss laugh? Day has a big following from the long-running TV hit It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but here he’s very off-putting with his aggressive, every-other-word vulgarities that aren’t funny.
Aside from Ralph, Glen is surrounded by nothing but women and all have complaints about him — his ex, a former ladyfriend, his right-hand responsible for keeping his company afloat — and they let him know it. A beautiful, celebrated and pregnant actress, Grace Culligan (Rose Byrne), insinuates herself into his new show and, before long, into bed, although even this doesn’t improve his equilibrium, as his big problem remains his daughter.
Both in the writing and performance, China is a finely wrought creation, a young lady of manners and a degree of taste but who has been given no guidance, rules, motivation or a stern hand; Glen can never say no to her or impose any discipline and now, on the eve of her 18th birthday, it’s too late to start.
So when the legendary director and notorious lech Lesley Graham (John Malkovich, brilliantly cast) makes China’s acquaintance and starts taking her to Barney’s to try on clothes (one outfit makes her look just like Sue Lyon in Lolita) and inevitably entrances her with his vast knowledge and worldly ways, Glen starts seething — and of course falls even further behind in his work on the new TV series. But this is nothing compared to how he feels when, after China’s 18th birthday, she decides to accept Lesley’s invitation to join him and a bunch of other friends on an excursion to Paris; there’s nothing her dad can now do to stop her.
The basic portrait the co-writer/director is drawing here is of an ineffectual father who exercises no control or influence over his daughter; he’s set no example, created no boundaries, inspired no aspirations. The world has been served to her on a plate, and what kid isn’t going to just take it? It’s a predicament — call it a personal tragedy, if you want — of his own making, and yet the film is largely a comedy, one with quite a few strong laughs, many sharp perspectives and not a few things to say about adult foibles.
Given C.K.’s well-known insights into all manner of things, however, it just seems odd to see him playing such a successful guy with so little skill at relating to other people, how to work with them professionally and how to influence them personally. The character’s leading trait is that he’s pathetic but, despite that, he’s massively successful. Go figure.
All the supporting players exude far more personality and oomph than does the leading man, and the monochrome cinematography is like a warm visual bath. Another big plus is the sumptuous symphonic score by Zachary Seman and Robert Miller. At more than two hours, the pic could profitably be cut by 10 minutes or so.
Production companies: Circus King Films
Cast: Louis C.K., Chloe Grace Moretz, John Malkovich, Rose Byrne, Charlie Day, Helen Hunt, Pamela Adlon, Ebonee Noel, Edie Falco
Director: Louis C.K.
Screenwriters: Louis C.K., Vernon Chatman
Producers: Louis C.K., Vernon Chatman, John Skidmore, Dave Becky, Ryan Cunningham
Executive producer: Tony Hernandez
Director of photography: Paul Koestner
Production designer: Amy Silver
Costume designer: Emily Gunshor
Editor: Louis C.K.
Music: Zachary Seman, Robert Miller
Casting: Gayle Keller
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival