Comedien Louis C.K. pays homage to Woody Allen in a black-and-white film starring himself, Chloe Grace Moretz and John Malkovich

i love you daddy

Dir. Louis C.K. US. 2017. 123mins

It’s easier to worship our heroes from afar than to get to know them — especially when their controversial personal lives intrude into our small little world. That’s one of the notions at play in I Love You, Daddy, a provocative comedy in which stand-up and filmmaker Louis C.K. seemingly pays homage to Woody Allen but also addresses the tabloid issues that have plagued his career. Indulgent and meandering, but also very funny and thought-provoking, this film is ultimately about how little we understand about others — as well as ourselves.

I Love You evokes everything from Manhattan to Crimes And Misdemeanors, even utilising a romantic orchestral score to suggest the melancholy, old-fashioned quality of Woody Allen’s films

Premiering in Toronto, I Love You will appeal to fans of C.K.’s acclaimed series Louie and Horace And Pete — not to mention filmgoers who will appreciate the overt references to the bittersweet quality of Allen’s comedy-dramas. A starry cast that includes Chloë Grace Moretz, Rose Byrne and John Malkovich will only further draw attention to this low-budget affair.

Shot on 35mm in black-and-white, the film stars C.K. as Glen, a mega-successful New York TV writer who can’t say no to his spoiled, doting 17-year-old daughter China (Moretz). While casting his new series, Glen meets Grace (Byrne), a rising film star who adores his work. She invites him and his daughter to a party, where they encounter Leslie (Malkovich), a revered filmmaker whom Glen worships. There’s only one trouble: he’s notorious for dating underage girls, a rumour that never bothered Glen until the director starts spending time with China.

I Love You evokes everything from Manhattan to Crimes And Misdemeanors, even utilising a romantic orchestral score to suggest the melancholy, old-fashioned quality of Woody Allen’s films. A long-time admirer of Allen — C.K. even had a bit role in his Blue Jasmine — the writer-director cycles through several of the Oscar-winner’s themes, including the unpredictability of love and the fickleness of luck.

But the self-consciousness of C.K.’s borrowing comes with a twist after the introduction of the pompous, aloof Leslie, who doesn’t behave anything like Allen’s onscreen persona but whose gossip-y personal life does vaguely resemble Allen’s in terms of his relationship with the much younger Soon-Yi Previn and, more seriously, the allegations of child sexual abuse. (It should be noted that C.K. himself has been accused of sexual assault.) I Love You enters provocative territory once Glen discovers that his normal dismissals of his hero’s rumoured behaviour suddenly evaporate once it’s his daughter who is involved.

That this is the stuff of comedy is a tribute to C.K., who in his stand-up and TV series often tackles taboo topics with reckless, liberating candour. In I Love You, Glen’s hypocrisy is nicely skewered, but that’s only one element in a film that continually examines how this successful writer is actually flailing. Specifically, C.K. focuses on Glen’s unhealthy relationship with his daughter, who knows how to get whatever she wants by showering him with affection. Repeatedly, we see signs that Glen is sleepwalking through his own life, and I Love You explores how this character who thinks he knows best slowly acknowledges his own fallibility and complacency.

Lensed by C.K.’s frequent cinematographer Paul Koestner, I Love You makes the most of its stagy, talk-heavy script by playing up the story’s intimacy. At over two hours, the film feels flabby and redundant, but Byrne, Moretz and Malkovich adroitly create multi-dimensional characters who we think we can peg early on. More skilled as a writer and director than as an actor, C.K. doesn’t have the dramatic heft of his co-stars, but he sincerely projects Glen’s frustration and uncertainty, arriving at the kind of nicely understated finale that Allen has made his speciality.

Production company: Circus King Films

International sales: 3 Arts,

Producers: Louis C.K., Vernon Chatman, John Skidmore, Dave Becky, Ryan Cunningham

Executive producer: Tony Hernandez

Screenplay: Louis C.K., story by Vernon Chatman and Louis C.K.

Cinematography: Paul Koestner

Production design: Amy Silver

Editor: Louis C.K.

Music: Zachary Seman, Robert Miller

Main cast: Louis C.K., Chloë Grace Moretz, Rose Byrne, Charlie Day, Edie Falco, Pamela Adlon, Ebonee Noel, Helen Hunt, John Malkovich