Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Like the Pope issuing a bull, New Yorker film critic Richard Brody has declared Louis CK’s I LOVE YOU, DADDY to be a “disgusting movie that should never have been acquired for distribution in the first place.” I’ll skip the plot summary and head straight to his conclusions:
What Louis C.K. never does, in “I Love You, Daddy,” is consider in any practical or emotional detail the reasons why the relationship between a seventeen-year-old woman who hasn’t filled out a single college application and a sixty-eight-year-old man of wealth and accomplishment might be inadvisable—why the difference between them is more than a number. For instance, there’s no reckoning with differences in experience or in power—because the movie takes pains to put China and Leslie on equal footing. What goes on between China and Leslie is depicted as no prurient romp (it’s never actually clear whether their relationship is sexual). Rather, the movie makes it look as if Leslie is offering China a blend of Black Mountain College and Fitzgerald’s Riviera. Leslie takes China to Paris on his private jet, which is filled with his entourage of stylish young bohemians lounging cheerfully and playing music. The merry troupe also surrounds Leslie at a Paris banquet where he holds court, and keeps him company on his yacht, where China conspicuously cuddles with a young British playboy—while Leslie sits in the background, watches them, and types away on a classic Olivetti Lettera 32 portable typewriter. China’s trip with Leslie and his retinue is her education, an education greater than college, and it’s also his artistic inspiration.
I wasn’t aware it was a movie’s job to consider in any practical or emotional detail the reasons why the relationship between a seventeen-year-old woman and a sixty-eight-year-old man of wealth and accomplishment might be inadvisable. Wouldn’t such practical and emotional details be readily apparent to any halfway thinking adult watching the movie? But perhaps Mr. Brody is worried that the average audience member will not have his remarkable mental powers and thus, unlike him, will need all the practical and emotional details spelled out so he really understands why such a relationship is inadvisable.
That’s the over-all idea—and the doctrine that Louis C.K. puts in his male characters’ mouths and justifies as “feminism.” Whether in Glen’s lecture to China, in which he defines feminism for her as “independence,” or in Leslie’s lecture to China, in which he argues that feminism is about opposing a patriarchy that is hardly more oppressive than a matriarchy would be, Louis C.K. assumes from the start that women’s power is equal to—even superior to—that of men.
Oh good heavens, now I’m starting to understand! CK is questioning some of feminism’s fundamental assumptions. No no no, we mustn’t have that! Men are always oppressors and women are always victims. The Narrative told me so!
The result is, in effect, an act of cinematic gaslighting, an attempt to spin the tenets of modern liberal feminism into shiny objects of hypnotic paralysis. The movie declares that depredation is liberation, morality is tyranny, judgment is narrow-mindedness, shamelessness is creativity, lechery is admiration, and public complaint is private vanity. And it does so with a jocular self-deprecation that frames its screed as a personal journey through loss to self-awareness by way of a newfound respect for women’s virtues and desires—and a newfound skepticism about moral verities. (It also pushes other buttons of cavalier affront in the guise of uninhibited freedom, as in Glen’s use of the N-word early in the film.) In scene after scene, “I Love You, Daddy” depicts or evokes women making decisions—in private life or in the professional realm—that men feel constrained to accept. In short, it says that whatever authority men have isn’t really worth much, but it’s all they have and they’re entitled to it.
Until fifteen minutes ago, hip progressives never tired of declaring that depredation is liberation, morality is tyranny, judgment is narrow-mindedness, shamelessness is creativity, lechery is admiration, and public complaint is private vanity. But not anymore! Whew, hard to keep up with the dizzying page of change in modern life!
“I Love You, Daddy” does all this without any complex or self-questioning artistry; with merely functional craft, it dispenses character traits, embodies messages, underlines every intention. Though two hours long and closed-ended, it is only a simulacrum of a movie. There is no ambiguity, no ambivalence, no second level of meaning, no irony, no glimmer of self-doubt—nothing but the channelling of a revolting sense of entitlement, of rights exercised without responsibilities. Louis C.K. has, and should have, the absolute right to make this movie and show it any way he can; but no responsible distributor should ever have decided to buy the rights to the movie from him (as The Orchard did, for five million dollars) or to promote it and release it. It’s good that the release of the movie has been cancelled—but it’s lamentable that it took the outing of Louis C.K.’s actual misconduct, rather than the movie’s own demerits, to get it off the calendar.
If we were to dismiss all movies that had minimal ambiguity, ambivalence, or irony, we’d be throwing out nearly every Hollywood movie ever made. Funny how Brody slams CK’s “revolting sense of entitlement” while telling us in the next sentence that, yeah, sure, OK, I guess CK should be allowed to make and show the movie (damn you, free speech and First Amendment!), but then defines for us plebs exactly how responsible distributors should act by never promoting or releasing it.
When I was young, this kind of censorious, moralistic shaming was the M.O. of organizations like Bill Donohue’s Catholic League and the enlightened set would react with great scorn. Remember when liberals fought for the right to offend?