Louie C.K's "I Love You, Daddy"

"I Love You, Daddy" is director-actor Louie CK's unique ode to Woody Allen but, more specifically, "Manhattan." Shot in black-and-white and set in New York City it features an old-fashioned romantic musical score, but retains the talky neuroses of Allen's 1979 classic. Shot on 35mm in, what seems to be, low-budget indie form, this comedy was directed and co-written by C.K. himself. In it, he plays Glen Topher, a television creator with writer's block who has given his 17-year-old daughter China (Chloe Grace Moretz) everything and more in life, this is a kid that never heard the word "no" and has been spoon-fed by the luxuries that come in having a successful dad. There's been no guidance in her life, no manners taught whatsoever. 

Glen's high-rise apartment in the middle of Manhattan tells us everything we need to know about his wealth, but there's also a lack of satisfaction, he seems to be craving for more. Moretz’ performance is exactly what this thinly-written character needed to burst off the screen, the 20-year-old actress captures the sheer childish nature of this spoon-fed, dependent-on-daddy princess. Her scenes with CK, playing a version of himself here just like he did on "Louie," are the clear-cut highlights of this messy film.

China, fresh off spring break and almost always scantily clad in her mini weeny bikini overabundant uses the phrase “I love you, Daddy!” to get what she wants, so much so that it starts to earn an airless meaning. Glen's friend, played by Charlie Day, senses that she's trouble and that he should probably not inquire about what this girl does not just on spring break, but on any trip she goes off to with "friends.” He further enhances Glen's paranoiac thoughts by telling him that maybe, just maybe, his precious daughter might not be promiscuous, telling him about a sexually explicit game that is very popular among teenagers entitled "Mother May I,” which, well, let's just say leaves Glen in a state of shock for the rest of the film, consistently re-mentioning the prospect of her daughter playing this filthy game. 

Despite just inking a deal to create 12 episodes for a new series about nurses, Glenn feels like he's just signed up to the wrong show. Adding to that it's April and the show is supposed to start airing in September. That gives Glenn less than 6 months to write, cast and shoot the entire thing. His production partner (the excellent Edie Falco) has a platter full of stressful planning to deal with and she's about had it with Glen.  Things start to pick up for our beloved neurotic writer once Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) comes into the picture, she's a famous Hollywood movie star that wants the leading role in Glen's show. Glen starts to think that this woman, whom he's clearly fantasized about in the past, could be the muse that kick-starts things back up again for him. In a not so surprising twist of fate, they sleep together and, eureka, he starts writing again.

Grace invited Glen and China to the Hamptons, where they are introduced to the film's antagonist Leslie, (John Malkovich) a 68-year-old film director prone to sleeping with under-aged girls, who also happens to be Glenn's idol. Malkovich, donning a goatee, bourgeois verbosity and an overall highbrow attitude is perfectly cast, he's stuck-up but loose, brush-offish but open to new people and new ideas. He's an enigma packed with contradictions and, of course, he sets his sights on China and they start frequenting each other.  Glen hears that China is so enamored with her new best friend that she plans on going with him and some other friends on a retreat in France.  Glen's writer's block comes back and, to make matters worse, the relationship he has with Grace is ended after they argue over Leslie and China's "friendship." The world is falling apart for this writer.

This film is no doubt meant as a provocation on the part of C.K, who is no stranger in veering into uncomfortable and cringe-worthy material in both his brilliant standup routines and his FX show "Louie." The themes here are no doubt boundary-pushing but the film ends up stranding the viewer in its second half by not following up on its promising setup. In other words, it feels like C.K. was scared off by what he was pursuing, the prospect of tackling child molestation, in this movie and decided to go the non-threatening route instead.

"I Love You, Daddy" is Louis CK's first film since 2001's "Pootie Tang," a Chris Rock Blaxploitation mock-up that has barely been remembered in the years since  but has attained a smallish cult following as well. This latest film deserves points for tackling such a hot-button topic as an older predatory man going after under-aged girls, especially given the current zeitgeist we are living in at the moment, it is daring enough to go "there" and not leave a bitter aftertaste afterwards. The film does bare striking similarities to CK's own FX show and is not unlike Larry David's well-known brand of neuroses in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."  The problem with this latest endeavor for the 50-year-old comedian is that at 123 minutes "I Love You, Daddy" does tend to ramble on, which disappoints because a good chunk of the movie works and lures the viewer in. 

What this film essentially feels like is a rough-cut, a film made by a director that is confused as to what he wants to really say and how he intends to say it. There's potential in C.K's voice as a filmmaker but he still needs to sharpen up his craft, hone it if you will, and learn from some of the mistakes he's making here. Maybe next time instead of editing his own film he might want to try and hire a professional editor to cut off the fat and give his film a proper structure built-in with more shape and tone.