Now I can’t say exactly how I came across this movie, but I assure you all that it was through completely legitimate channels. And yes, I will be addressing the controversy surrounding its cancellation, but first, my review:
Louis CK (who also writes and directs) plays Glen, a highly successful showrunner in New York City. Having divorced years ago, he splits custody of his 17-year-old daughter, the appallingly named China (Chloë Grace Moretz) with his ex-wife. China, having grown accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, has become a borderline-sociopathic manipulator when it comes to squeezing her father for anything and everything, flashing a doe-eyed smile and allowing him the illusion that he has a choice in saying yes or no. When Glen brings China along for an industry party, they both meet Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a legendary sixtysomething director known for his penchant for young girls. China is instantly intrigued by him, and soon after begins seeing him socially. Glen, a great admirer of Leslie’s, finds himself completely unprepared to deal with the situation, all the while struggling to write a pilot script for his next show.
I Love You, Daddy does a great job of getting us to sympathize with its deeply flawed characters. Glen is woefully lacking as a father, but at the root of all his enabling is a simple desire to be loved by his daughter. And it’s hard not to feel a little bad for China, who’s been groomed into a spoiled, useless brat by an indulgent parent who should know better. Leslie is the closest thing the movie has to a villain, an unapologetic lech whose status causes people to look the other way, but he never feels like a caricature.
CK and Moretz are excellent in the two lead roles, but it’s the stellar supporting cast that really rounds out the movie. Pamela Adlon and Edie Falco, playing Glen’s ex-girlfriend and TV colleague, respectively, are perfect as the two female voices of reason in Glen’s life. Opposite them are Charlie Day as Glen’s hilariously inappropriate showbiz friend, whose unfiltered speculation about Leslie stokes Glen’s fears, and Malkovich as the comically pretentious Leslie.
Among all these conflicted characters is plenty of the slightly dry, true-to-life humor that Louie so excelled at. The dialogue and situations are funny without ever feeling written, and provide plenty of CK’s trademark awkward interactions. The story itself is fairly loose, but this relaxed quality never hurts the movie’s entertainment value. I Love You, Daddy is almost as much of a month-or-so in the life of Glen as it is the story of his conflict over his daughter, and because of CK’s knack for comedic naturalism, it works quite well.
I Love You, Daddy handles the controversial February-December relationship at its center with impressive self-assurance, addressing it (along with other gender issues) head-on while never slipping into preachiness. When Glen looks to others for guidance on how to handle the situation, he gets advice that runs the gamut from nip-it-in-the-bud caution to “age is just a number” progressivism. His realization that ultimately only he can choose how to proceed provides his (and the movie’s) primary arc, and the script handles it skillfully, remaining true to its realistic tone by never giving easy answers to the provocative questions at its core.
It would be impossible (or at least ill-advised) to write a review of this movie without mentioning Louis CK’s recent scandal. What he did was obviously awful, and makes for a few uncomfortable moments during a viewing, but that has no bearing on the movie’s quality. On its own merits, I Love You, Daddy is funny, entertaining, and smart, and it’s too good to be forever tied to the wrongdoings of its creator.