As his first feature film since directing Pootie Tang in 2001, I Love You, Daddy marks another definitive step in Louis C.K.’s already varied career. In many ways it feels like the culmination of what he’s been working towards with recent projects like his FX series Louie and his independently produced web series Horace and Pete. It’s also simultaneously a love letter to cinema, and a condemnation of show business.
While his Louie series often feels off the cuff, or like C.K. giving himself a writing exercise, I Love You, Daddy feels like his first fully realized, significant, polished screenplay. This is surely one of the reasons he decided to shoot it on 35mm, as if to say this is important, this deserves celluloid. He’s ruminating on subjects in insightful ways that are obviously significant to him. Things like fathering a young woman, perception versus reality, nature versus nurture, rumour culture, and white privilege.
There are of course several elephants in the room. The biggest one is named Woody Allen. I Love You, Daddy emulates the best of that inconsistent auteur. It’s a comedy with serious undertones, dealing with different relationships in realistic and humorous ways, including a romantic relationship with a large age gap. John Malkovich plays a well-known filmmaker with a reputation for chasing young girls, so naturally C.K.’s character, a TV writer who idolizes the director’s films, is uncomfortable when his 17 year old daughter forms an ambiguous relationship with him. This is a subject that Allen had dealt with in both his films, and of course, his personal life, but the parallels don’t end there. There’s also the black and white cinematography which Allen has dabbled in several times, the jazz soundtrack, and even the fact that C.K. has cast himself in the lead as the somewhat neurotic, bespectacled writer, who also gets to bed his own beauty (Rose Byrne), seem like a nod to Allen. To add another meta layer, C.K. has also been dealing with (or avoiding) some recent unsavoury rumours about himself as well.
Fortunately this is not just another case of nostalgia and ‘member berries, (“‘member Manhattan?”), or a filmmaker trying to be meta for no reason. C.K. has actually made a personal film with his own insights, it just happens to be in a familiar form. It also features some of his funniest and smartest dialogue to date. Malkovich’s character is particularly interesting. Creepy to be sure, but not lecherous. He’s honest, erudite, and ultimately quite honourable. Like the better Allen films, I Love You, Daddy will definitely spark some interesting conversations and debates.
C.K. leads a tight ensemble that also includes Chloë Grace Moretz as his daughter, Malkovich, Rose Byrne, Edie Falco and Charlie Day, who all get their fair share of meaty dialogue. Day is perhaps a little obnoxious and feels like he’s in a different movie, but he also gets some of the biggest laughs. Who would have thought that C.K. would become such an actor’s director?
Lastly, the B&W 35mm cinematography looks great. C.K. complements it with a classical style of direction that makes I Love You, Daddy as much of a throwback as Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, even though the films themselves couldn’t be any different. Both are examples of directors merging modern sensibilities and old school techniques to create something with the best of both worlds, feeling fresh and time-honoured at once.