TORONTO >> “It’s not a safe space, it’s not a triggerless place, it just isn’t,” said Louis C.K., describing — in no small understatement — his darkly funny and squirm-inducing new movie, “I Love You, Daddy,” which debuted to warm applause and some revulsion at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend.
Filmed quietly in New York in June, the movie tells of a successful, emotionally lost television writer, played by Louis C.K., who is dealing — except he’s not dealing — with the seduction of his 17-year-old daughter by an esteemed filmmaker, and rumored pedophile, who is four times her age.
“There are these people in the world that we all talk about, and we want to know that they’re all good or they’re all bad,” Louis C.K. said during an interview Sept. 10 at a cafe in downtown Toronto. “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.”
It’s an observation that raises the question of how well do audiences know Louis C.K., a man who has built his career out of relentlessly, albeit thoughtfully, mining collective discomforts and taboos.
Unsubstantiated internet rumors of his sexual misconduct with female comics gained steam last month when the comic Tig Notaro told The Daily Beast that he should “handle” the rumors. “I Love You, Daddy” tackles similar rumormongering; however, like the auteur in the film, Louis C.K. dodged when asked about them.
“I’m not going to answer to that stuff, because they’re rumors,” Louis C.K. said during the Toronto interview, as he told Vulture last year. But he added, “If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real.”
So it’s not real?
“No.” he responded. “They’re rumors, that’s all that is.”
And what did he make of the comments by Notaro, whose work he has championed?
(Louis C.K. is an executive producer of her Amazon series, “One Mississippi,” though she has said they haven’t spoken in more than a year; a new episode of her series features a plot with echoes of the rumors about Louis C.K.)
“I don’t know why she said the things she’s said, I really don’t,” he replied, adding, “I don’t think talking about that stuff in the press and having conversations over press lanes is a good idea.”
As he spoke about “that stuff,” Louis C.K., who turns 50 on Sept. 12, did not come off as defensive, but he did speak forcefully. He conceded that making a movie that toys with did-he-or-didn’t-he questions could strike some as a little flagrant.
“I made a movie that totally walks all over that electric fence,” he said, “and that’s weird.”
There’s the tricky, icky, central questions, like whether the relationship between the daughter (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) and the near-septuagenarian filmmaker (John Malkovich) is more acceptable given that she is just weeks shy of her 18th birthday? But the film’s provocations include a few slurs and a goof-off comedian (Charlie Day) miming onanism, twice, in front of other people.
“I don’t weigh these things and go, ‘I hope everybody’s OK with this,’” he said. “I think it’s boring to do that, and I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think that everybody has to come to a consensus that it’s OK for everybody.”
For prospective distributors in Toronto, the provocative elements seem to have added to the film’s allure. As of Monday morning, a “significant deal” was imminent for the film, according to Louis C.K.’s publicist, Lewis Kay. (The comedian self-financed the movie and which was still in postproduction up until the premiere.) While he has made other work, including his surprise self-distributed series “Horace and Pete,” available for purchase on his website, Louis C.K. has said he wants to see “I Love You, Daddy” in theaters.
Shot in 35 millimeter in glamorous black and white, and accompanied by a sweeping score, the movie is deeply evocative of “Manhattan,” making it feel like a Woody Allen movie about Woody Allen. (Louis C.K. said other real-life figures, among them Roman Polanski, fed into the Allen-esque character, too.) He wrote “I Love You, Daddy” with Vernon Chatman, and began working on it two years ago, ending up with this story line out of the many he was considering. The tale folds in the agonizing that goes into parenting, a theme that has been a through line in the comedian’s work (in stand-up as well as in series like “Louie” on FX). He said he saw “I Love You, Daddy” as a tragic tale.
“It’s about a guy who found out too late that he didn’t do his job as a dad, and he couldn’t use the information that he found, and the girl had no choice but to raise herself,” he said. He added later that after seeing the film on the big screen, he felt that it was also “just kind of a sweet movie about the twilight of childhood and parenthood.”
Joining him to chat a little later, several of the film’s co-stars — Pamela Adlon, Day, Edie Falco and Ebonee Noel, whose teenage character claims at one point, “Everybody’s a pervert” — said it was Louis C.K.’s fearlessness that they relished most about his work.
“He’s never afraid to do something polarizing,” Adlon said, and Falco concurred. “I am so in awe of that bravery, ” Ms. Falco said, “Because it’s so not who I am.”
And that willingness to play it unsafe, Day said, was what set Louis C.K. apart.
“There’s always a little bit of blood in the water with what he makes,” he said. “And it’s hard to find that in Hollywood, because everyone wants to tread lightly. In a society that’s becoming ultimately far more saccharine, it’s harder to find anybody willing to fly close to the sun.”