Even before this week’s New York Times report, where five women came forward to accuse comedian Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct, his new film I Love You, Daddy had been raising eyebrows in the industry. The movie, which C.K. wrote, directed, and starred in, was filmed in secret and added to the Toronto International Film Festival in September as a surprise entry, and though it premiered weeks before the Harvey Weinstein accusations would prompt a closer look at sexual misbehavior in Hollywood, Toronto audiences were buzzing about how the film seemed to address the rumors about Louis C.K. that had been circulating for years. Now, in the wake of the Times report, some of the film’s thorny topics — and, in particular, one already notorious scene — cannot help but evoke some of the stories that C.K.’s accusers have just told.
The film’s premise is purposefully provocative: C.K. plays Glen, a successful TV showrunner whose 17-year-old daughter China (Chloë Grace Moretz) becomes involved with 68-year-old Leslie (John Malkovich), a legendary filmmaker who is rumored to have pursued inappropriate relationships with underage girls. The character is pretty clearly modeled on Woody Allen and, frankly, so is the movie. Glen idolizes Leslie and initially brushes off the stories that circulate about him: “You shouldn’t say things about people when you’ve just heard rumors,” he tells China, a line that many have interpreted as a personal statement from C.K. himself.
Meanwhile, Glen is embarking on a potential relationship, too. He’s about to put a new show on the air and actress Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) wants the lead; Glen wants her, too, eventually in more ways than one. It’s this plot strand that leads to the scene that may be the film’s most audacious, considering the accusations now mounting against C.K.: While Glen takes a call from Grace in his office, his lewd friend Ralph (Charlie Day) asks Glen to put her on the speakerphone, goads Glen by mouthing exclamations about Grace’s hotness, then vigorously mimes masturbation as an oblivious Grace chatters on. Ralph continues to pretend-masturbate for the rest of the scene, even as Glen’s harried producing partner (Edie Falco) enters the room. As she stops and sizes up what he’s doing, Ralph is wholly unbothered by her reaction; if anything, he ramps things up in her presence, jerking his phantom penis to completion.
It has long been rumored that C.K. has masturbated in front of other women in the industry — in the Times this week, comedians Julia Wolov and Dana Min Goodman accused C.K. of doing just that — though C.K. claimed in Toronto that the rumors had not even entered his mind when he scripted and shot the scene with Day. In another claim in the Times report, writer Abby Schachner says that she realized during a phone conversation with C.K. that he was masturbating to her, which further recontextualizes Day’s behavior during the speakerphone scene in I Love You, Daddy. C.K.’s character may tell his daughter to ignore the rumors about celebrities’ bad behavior, but the implications about C.K.’s personal life in I Love You, Daddy are so glaring that they could practically be written in neon. If the accusations in the Times are false — and in the past, C.K. has denied or attempted to evade rumors of sexual misconduct — it’s awfully odd that he would script and perform in a scene that involves several of the things he’s now said to have done, including one specific accusation that had yet to go public.
Will I Love You, Daddy still come out as scheduled, and if it does, will the mock-masturbation scene remain in it? That remains to be seen: The film’s distributor had intended to debut it in select theaters next week, but as word of the Times article began to spread over the last few days, the studio canceled its premiere, and C.K. has now withdrawn from his plans to promote it. Though the film seemed almost as though it was conceived in order to court controversy, if more revelations continue to come out, C.K.’s most onanistic work yet may never find an audience.