Made In MANHATTAN: Louis C.K.‘s Confrontational I LOVE YOU, DADDY

The trailer for Louis C.K.'s upcoming throwback dramedy indicates it's an act of willful (and possibly miscalculated) defiance.

In his TIFF Review of Louis C.K.'s I Love You, Daddy, Boston Globe critic Ty Burr summed the movie up rather succinctly:

C.K.’s new film, called I Love You, Daddy and shot on the down-low this past June, is a farce about a TV comedy writer named Glenn Topher (Louis C.K.) who becomes outraged when his spoiled 17-year-old daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) becomes besotted with a sixty-something filmmaking legend played by John Malkovich.

I Love You, Daddy is an old-school affair in more ways than one. It’s shot on film rather than digital, and lustrous black-and-white film at that. In its rapturous classic feel, highlighted by 1930s-era opening credits and a full-throated 80-piece orchestral score recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the new movie bears a suspicious familiarity to a canonical 1979 film in which a legendary filmmaker played a TV writer who has an affair with a 17-year-old schoolgirl.

The second film Burr's referencing is, of course, Woody Allen's Manhattan - formerly one of the greatest movies ever made that's now a rather icky distillation of its creator's notorious fetish for younger women. In that picture, the forty-something protagonist, Isaac (Allen, showcasing every last one of his tics), falls for the aforementioned high school sweetheart (Mariel Hemingway). However, when coupled with adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow's detailed accounts of her alleged sexual abuse at the director's hands in 1992, Manhattan is now borderline unwatchable, its beautiful text transmuted into a horrifying series of red flags regarding a privileged man who's admittedly lusted after, married, and may have very well forced himself upon underage girls unable to defend themselves in real life. 

With that in mind, it's curious as to why Louis C.K. would pick Manhattan as the film to emulate (one look at the trailer for I Love You, Daddy makes the comparison rather obvious for anyone who's seen Allen's movie) when crafting his own love letter/commentary regarding an auteur his work has so thoroughly drawn influence from since helming episodes of his landmark FX series (not to mention appearing in Allen's Blue Jasmine). Granted, Manhattan is often viewed by many Allen die hards as being near the top of his filmography (alongside Annie Hall), so it's easy to understand the admiration Louis holds for the picture. But as a funnyman dealing with his own set of allegations regarding sexual misconduct, one would suppose that he wouldn't want to draw any further attention and let audiences zero in on the work at hand. 

Or maybe that's what makes Manhattan the perfect blueprint for Louis to model his own work after - an instant aesthetic signifier that he's going to be confronting both his own allegations and the legacy of one of his idols head on. After all, Louis has never been one to shy away from controversy, as even his stand up routine saw him tackling "unwoke" topics, such as straight men saying the word "faggot" (a bit which he then deconstructed on the very first episode of his show). His routine's basis is blunt honesty, so cinematically adopting this pretense on even a strictly visual level could be considered par for the course for the relentlessly individualistic creative force. 

Nevertheless, it's difficult to approach a movie from a "blunt" or "honest" artist facing serious charges of sexual misconduct who won't even address these "rumors" in public. These allegations first floated in comedy cliques, before circulating on the Internet, and being alluded to on a podcast by Jen Kirkman (who's since walked her own comments back); comedian Tig Notaro, whose Amazon series One Mississippi was executive produced by C.K., recently suggested the star should “handle” these whispers regarding his past behavior. However, he dismissed them outright in an interview with the New York Times via a rather straightforward "rumors, that's all it is."

With that dismissal comes the notion that he's letting the work do the talking for him - crafting a confrontational cinematic address that's going to take the place of all the comments he's refused to make. This makes complete sense, as an artist like C.K. has included every triumph and embarrassment in his past work, covering everything from his divorce to his self-perceived failings as a father. There's certainly an artistic nobility to be considered here, as it could be perceived (both by himself and others in various creative communities) as the act of pure professionalism. "You wanna know who I am? Buy a ticket and find out."

According to Indiewire critic Eric Kohn, I Love You, Daddy may be that sort of gauntlet:

C.K.'s entire movie...appears to have been constructed as a dare, completed within a window of time in which a handful of media allegations involving his sexual harrasment of female comedians has complicated many fans' relationship to his work. Even as I Love You, Daddy delivers a pitch-black, tonally sophisticated riff on the paradoxes of fatherhood, it's almost too self-conciously conceived as a rejoinder to anyone taking issue with his work because of rumors about his behavior. "You shouldn't say things about someone's private life when you don't know them," he tells his daughter when she initially brings up Leslie's past discretions [JQK Note: like Allen, Malkovich's director has been plagued by stories of past affairs with younger women].

This wouldn't be the first time C.K. has addressed these charges in his fiction, as in the fourth season of Louie, an episode titled "Pamela (Part 1)" sees his character assault his friend (played by Pamela Adlon) after she babysits his kids. The woman even utters the line "please don't start jerking off, I'm awake", when he first groggily enters from working a comedy gig. Then he forcibly attempts to kiss her, pull her shirt off, and drags her across the apartment while she repeatedly tells him "no" and attempts to fight him off. It's a harrowing, tragic scene; all too real for anyone who's ever experienced or known a woman who has been assaulted by a person they deem a "friend"

The moment also felt like an artistic transfiguration of C.K.'s comment in a Vulture interview, which serves as the longest elaboration he's ever given regarding his alleged sexual misconduct:

If you need your public profile to be all positive, you're sick in the head. I do the work I do, and what happens next I can't look after. So my thing is that I try to speak to the work whenever I can. Just the work and not to my life.

Still, this line of "work above all" isn't going to fly with everyone. In Emma Healey's recent Hazlitt article "Truth In Jest" (which doubles as the very best recap of C.K.'s history of alleged assaults), she says:

His insistence that none of this matters has kept the subject from troubling his public image not because this work/life argument is ironclad, but because most of the people who admire his work really don't want to think about the rumors at all. If you're a Louis C.K. fan, his reasoning is attractive for the same reason it's logically dubious - because an essential part of his act is the assumption that it's scaffolded by a moral conscience. If the structural integrity of the whole thing starts to give way, then suddenly your favorite comedian might not be your favorite comedian anymore. If these rumors were true, they would suck the life out of a lot of his best jokes, because their humor depends on the idea that they don't end with a crime. A joke about how men are the number one threat to women doesn't land quite the same way if the man doing it is guilty of sexual assault. It's both easier for C.K. and better for his brand if he just keeps his mouth shut.

But is it really better for him to keep his mouth shut? This is a double-edged sword, unfortunately. We live in an Internet age where, when a scandal breaks and the alleged perpetrator doesn't speak up regarding their actions, it can be viewed as not only a dodging of responsibility, but also complicity in the greater notion of "rape culture" (crowd-sourced assumptions which are somewhat logically dubious). In the wake of Harvey Weinstein's exposed rampage of forceful sexual perversity (which has thankfully opened the door for many across the spectrum of the entertainment industry to speak out about their own experiences involving harassment and assault), one assumes that Louis' skeletons are about to be yanked out the closet, especially if he's essentially playing artistic chicken with his latest feature endeavor. It's a bad time to be a bad man, no matter how hard your friends may have protected you or threatened to destroy your accusers in the past. 

As for I Love You, Daddy, everyone's going to get a chance to see it eventually, as The Orchard bought C.K.'s picture for a whopping $5 million out of TIFF. Whether or not folks plunk down their hard earned cash for a ticket is another question entirely. For fans of C.K., the movie will only further support his "truth through comedy" mantra, especially if none of the allegations are 100% substantiated by that point. For his detractors, the movie will play as just another half-cocked admission of guilt (sans an actual disclosure). By creating an onscreen dialogue with one of his influence's works, C.K. may have minted his own Manhattan, a piece of cinema that's going to double as insight into its mastermind's public perversities.