Comedian Louis C.K. has made a living of being provocative. His humour brilliantly mixes the craven with a bristling intelligence, using his comedy to tackle subjects both serious and solemn. His shtick is refined to a point, where he’s able to joke about some of our worst atrocities or most repulsive of human behaviour in ways that are implausibly entertaining and deeply insightful.
Which leads to I Love You, Daddy, a film that was shot in secret, credited in the festival guide to “LCK”, and refused a summary in the programme guide. At the film’s premiere, the director didn't even announce the cast ahead of time, wanting the audience to go in cold.
Obviously this only works for those diligent enough to avoid completely all news about the film, and the complete ignorance of everything save for that it was a film worth tackling did much to elevate the enjoyment of it. For those that must have at least a tease of plot, note that it’s a film that toys around with scandals that have plagued C.K.’s Blue Jasmine director, twisting ideas of parenthood, consent, the sordid fascination of youth and the travails of privilege and the spoiling of children.
Heady stuff, sure, but it’s all tackled with Louis’ trademark acerbic wit. As with his TV show, his character is drawn closely to his own experience, here a writer whose success continues unbridled even if the quality begins to wane. He’s joined by an ensemble unafraid to wade into dark waters, from pitch-perfect portrayals by John Malkovich and Chloë Grace Moretz, to other fantastic performances by Charlie Day, Rose Byrne and Edie Falco. And then there’s Pamela Adlon, the voice of reason who can call Louis on his shit like no other.
Shot on black and white 35mm film, the aesthetic dances between a Father Knows Best nostalgia and contemporary consumption culture, skewering the Kardashian-like lifestyle of this elite. As the film bounces between broad comedy and moments of deep reflection it always manages to stay on track, helped enormously by the fantastic cast. There are moments of deep discomfort, but for a film that lives on a knife edge, it remains sharp but never falls on its own blade. As each moment passes we’re drawn deeper into the lives of these characters, so that even the most shocking elements in time feel normalized.
It’s this deft emotional ride that sets I Love You, Daddy apart, providing a film both galling and entertaining in equal measure. Despite the deep misanthropy at play the film never feels maudlin or like its moralizing, even if the characters do try to provide some guidance about how to live one’s life.
With its soaring, syrupy score providing contrast to the neo-realist leanings of its dialogue, C.K. has created a collision of characters and conceits that’s intoxicating. It’s a film both ruthless and wry, deeply focused on the flawed humanity fueling each character’s decision making, and showing a side to parenthood and precociousness rarely exposed in such a theatrical yet effective way.
It’s perhaps hard to immediately love I Love You, Daddy, so shocking at times is its result, yet it’s a film that burrows its way into your consciousness, subtly making one question certain touchstones. It’s a magic trick of moral hijinks, teasing at audiences and using comedy to its most weaponized effect. The film is a refined version of what has made C.K. one of the greatest comedians of his generation, and with a film so unafraid to be its own thing, so unbeholden to either commercial considerations or restrictions set by others, this true independent product is anything but a vanity project.