A far more damning light

Louie CK now is losing gigs the way women who spoke up about his creepy nonconsensual behavior lost gigs.

The distributor of Louis C.K.’s coming film “I Love You, Daddy” said on Friday that it would not go ahead with its release of the movie. The announcement comes one day after The New York Times published a report in which multiple women shared their recollections of encounters in which Louis C.K., the Emmy Award-winning comedian, had engaged in sexual misconduct.

“I Love You, Daddy,” which is written and directed by Louis C.K., was acquired by the entertainment company the Orchard in a $5 million deal after the movie made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film stars Louis C.K. as a TV comedy writer and John Malkovich as a notorious filmmaker who strikes up an uncomfortable relationship with the protagonist’s daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) who has not yet turned 18.

How edgy.

Following preview screenings of “I Love You, Daddy,” several critics had remarked on its troubling sexual politics and how certain scenes seemed to be commenting on Louis C.K.’s own reputation for misconduct.

In an interview with The Times at the Toronto festival, Louis C.K. said: “The uncomfortable truth is, you never really know. You don’t know anybody. To me, if there was one thing this movie is about, it’s that you don’t know anybody.”

He would say that, wouldn’t he. He had creepy nonconsensual secrets, and from that he concludes that everyone has creepy nonconsensual secrets. You have to be pretty narcissistic to trap people into watching you masturbate, so you’re narcissistic enough to think everyone else is as creepy as you are. Wrong. Lots of people are not as creepy as that.

That link under the critics remarking goes to a Fast Company piece by Joe Berkowitz that is yet another confirmation that people knew about LCK’s creepy ways. It’s dated October 20, nearly three weeks ago.

After attending a screening in New York this week, I can guarantee that I Love You, Daddy–whose plot we’ll get to in a moment–will be viewed in a far more damning light when it’s released next month.

The film‘smostly rapturous reception at TIFF was already tainted by another discomforting news story. While promoting her Amazon series, One Mississippi, comedian Tig Notaro called on estranged pal Louis CK to “handle” the sexual harassment allegations against him. For years, stories have swirled that CK has a habit of forcing women in comedy to watch him masturbate. (Louis CK’s response has been to at first ignore the allegations, and then to dismiss them.) Tig Notaro simply made the rumors harder to ignore–not that it was ever okay to pretend they didn’t exist. After the Weinstein scandal broke, it’s now impossible–especially considering the subject of CK’s new movie.

I’m curious about what if anything Terry Gross will say about it, because she’s done a lot to promote CK. She mentions him often and she thinks he’s very hot shit. She also did a memorable interview with Tig Notaro; I would never have heard of either of them if I didn’t listen to Fresh Air regularly. Her attitude to LCK is worshipful, so I kind of think she needs to give us an ooops…especially since the rumors were out there.

I Love You, Daddy is a neo-screwball comedy about whether it’s truly possible to separate art from the artist. In this case, the artist is essentially Woody Allen, whose Manhattan CK’s film recalls in both style and substance. Louis CK stars as Glen Topher, an extremely Louis CK-like TV writer who worships at the altar of Leslie Goodwin, a Woody surrogate played by John Malkovich. Topher is willing to dismiss the (vaguely described) accusations of child molestation against proud horndog Goodwin… right up until Goodwin takes up with Topher’s barely illegal daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz). Meanwhile, another moral dilemma arises when pregnant actress Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) seems interested in sleeping with Topher if he helps her cross over into comedy. It’s a film generously larded with provocation, something its creator has never shied away from.

Manhattan is the movie that turned me right off Woody Allen. The fact that the Woody Allen character played by Woody Allen was shtupping a high school senior played by Mariel Hemingway was only part of it – I was also turned off by the relentless self-admiration, the anti-intellectualism, the hostility. That was long before he took up with his longterm partner’s underage daughter.

By making a movie about the struggle to reconcile accusations against Louis CK’s Blue Jasmine director, Woody Allen, CK has also made a movie about the audience’s struggle with himself. This is a film that’s aware of its creator’s reputation. Lest that layer be lost on viewers, one scene finds Charlie Day’s wily sidekick miming masturbation (to completion!) in front of Edie Falco. (Another scene has Topher apologizing to “Women,” as in the entire gender.) All of this may have been intended as a boiling hot gumbo of catharsis, reckoning, and trolling–a playful way to comment on the allegations against him without actually commenting–but it no longer feels that way. Now that sexual harassment and sexism have dominated the discourse for two weeks–spilling out into every facet of the entertainment industry–Louis CK’s intentions look more self-serving. The film now plays like an ambiguous moral inventory of and excuse for everything that allows sexual predators to thrive: open secrets, toxic masculinity, and powerful people getting the benefit of the doubt.

Powerful men. Powerful women don’t get that benefit of the doubt so much.

Setting aside the awkward timing of a male-written movie with a reversecasting couch subplot and a sidekick who is the human embodiment of locker room talk, the way the film regards open secrets is troubling. “That’s just a rumor,” Louis CK says about the allegations against John Malkovich’s esteemed auteur, echoing how he dismissed his own allegations in real life. “It’s a fucked-up, unproven story. He was never charged for that,” the character continues. Sure, it’s only a character saying so, and early in the film at that, but it’s also the opening salvo to a game of devil’s advocate the real Louis CK is in no position to play.

By the time his character says, “Never judge anybody on their private life,” accepts Les Goodwin’s creative notes right in the middle of a confrontation about maybe dating his teenage daughter, or takes comfort from another character declaring, “Everyone’s a pervert,” the audience has an idea of where he stands.

In making a case for not believing certain rumors, Louis CK is making a case for not believing women. Bill Cosby is a free man because people didn’t believe women. Donald Trump is the president because people didn’t believe women. Nobody might have believed the case against Harvey Weinstein if not for audio proof of him being disgusting to women. A policy of disregarding these kinds of rumors only protects the powerful men who stand accused. The real Woody Allen is surely aware of how dangerous it is for him if people start believing women. While prominent actors and directors publicly flagellate themselves for not speaking out about Weinstein sooner, even though they knew about his crimes, this man is worried that the avalanche of Weinstein accusers will lead to “a witch hunt.”

A worry we have seen before.

Is I Love You, Daddy even a good movie? I don’t know. Maybe if the 2017 audience knew absolutely nothing about the Weinstein scandal or Louis CK’s personal situation, they could evenly assess. It’s not Louis CK’s fault that the former is currently unfolding, but it seems intentional that it brings into sharp relief his own reputation. He sat through however many takes of Charlie Day pretending to masturbate in front of Edie Falco, knowing full well who it would remind people of: himself.

That takes quite a lot of nerve.

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