Saturday, July 20, 2024

Review | ‘Sorry/Not Sorry’ takes on Louis C.K. but not the toughest questions

“Sorry/Not Sorry” opens with a voice: “I love you, be a good dog, please.” We will later learn the voice (and the dog) belong to artist and comedian Abby Schachner, one of five women who, in 2017, publicly accused comedian Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct, including masturbating in front of them. It’s a telling opener, signaling that this documentary examination of the scandal and its aftermath, focusing on Schachner — a friend of C.K.’s — and two other women, will acknowledge an icky point about our ability to love those who behave badly: “My dad didn’t do the most wonderful things,” Schachner says toward the end of the film, “and I still love him.”

The film’s two other main subjects are Jen Kirkman, a TV writer and producer, and comedian/writer Megan Koester, both of whom tried to call out C.K. years before the public accusations.

Produced by the New York Times, which broke the story, and with its authors Melena Ryzik, Cara Buckley and Jodi Kantor appearing on camera and listed as consulting producers, “Sorry” sticks a finger in a wound that, for some of those involved, hasn’t quite healed. Yet it does so with what, at times, feels like a bland equanimity, simply asking questions — the explicit goal of filmmaker Caroline Suh, who shares a directing credit with Cara Mones — but without always offering the satisfaction of a solution to the vexing conundrum of the problematic, and often beloved, artist.

“It’s not a film that is trying to provide answers,” Suh said in an interview included in the film’s press material. Rather, she continued, “it’s meant to get the audience to think about how we treat each other versus how maybe we should treat each other.”

That seems easy. Here’s a better question: Why are we even still talking about C.K.? Mones, in the same interview, admits confusion was her first reaction when Suh invited her to co-direct.

Maybe it’s because C.K.’s subsequent behavior has left the sense of doublespeak implicit in the film’s title. “These stories are true,” C.K. admitted in a sheepish mea culpa released one day after the Times article ran. It was followed by an apparent period of atonement: “I will now step back and take a long time to listen,” he wrote. But his silence lasted a mere nine months before he popped back up with an unannounced appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York in August of 2018.

More appearances followed, in which he spun his misbehavior as a harmless kink. In 2022 and 2023, C.K. won back-to-back comedy Grammys, and in recent shows, he has adopted a tone of defensiveness. He did what he did to women because he’s good at it, he has joked. “If you’re good at juggling, you wouldn’t do it alone in the dark. You would gather folks and amaze them.”

That, as New York Times critic Wesley Morris notes in an interview for the film, is the exact opposite of the brutally confessional self-awareness that once made him so brilliantly funny — and famous as not just a joke teller, but a truth teller.

How long must we punish transgressors, especially ones who may be artistic geniuses, as several of those interviewed for the film describe C.K.? The filmmakers are mildly interested in the question of cancellation, but not as it pertains to C.K.

Rather, they explore the silencing of the women he hurt. Divided into chapters, the film includes a section called “Cancellation,” which follows rather than precedes “Comeback.”

For the most part, “Sorry” doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. That includes, as comedian Aida Rodriguez notes with a sense of defeat, that nothing has really changed in the wake of #MeToo.

Perhaps the most dismaying sentiment in this gloomy film is delivered by an anonymous comedy fan who apparently bought a ticket to watch C.K. perform at Madison Square Garden last year. On camera, the young man explains away his guilty pleasure with a Janus-like, transactional ambivalence worthy of his hero. “Everyone lives with a certain amount of hypocrisy,” he says with a shrug, “and this is the amount that I’ve allocated for myself.”

Unrated. Available on Prime Video, Apple TV Plus, YouTube, Google Play and Fandango. Contains strong language and discussion of sexuality. 90 minutes.

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