Daddy Longlegs Reviews
Overall, "Daddy Longlegs" is as aimless as its anti-hero, never being able to make up its mind about whether he is reckless or just irresponsible, nor what kind of movie it really wants to be without really the kind of energy to even be cringe inducing. What is true about him is what I am fond of saying in general in that some people should never have kids, especially Lenny who has trouble taking care of himself, much less two of them. As harsh as it may sound, one imagines him making the boys' future mother(Leah Singer) laugh before she wisely came to her senses.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Created by newcomer brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie, 'Daddy Longlegs' was shot on 16 millimeter and has the appearance of a film created in the late 70s (it seems like this is when the film is supposed to take place). It's up for the John Cassavettes Award as part of the independent cinema Spirit Awards in 2011 and reminds one of a Cassavettes film, shot in a cinema verite style, with partially a jazz score underneath. I recently heard the Safdies speak about the film in person and they indicated that it's loosely based on experiences with their father who divorced their mother years ago.
Daddy Longlegs is about a ne'er-do-well by the name of Lenny played by first-time actor Ronald Bronstein. Lenny is divorced from his wife and gets to spend two weeks out of the year with his 7 and 9 year old children, Sage and Frey (played by Sage and Frey Ranaldo in real life). Bronstein remained in character even when not on the set-for example when he visited Sage and Frey at their real school!
Daddy Longlegs is the portrait of a parent who obviously loves his children, but through his irresponsible behavior, ultimately places their lives in jeopardy. When we first meet Lenny, he defensively argues with the school principal who has taken the children out of school for picking fights with other kids. Lenny does crazy things like walking on his hands across the street with the children. After having an argument with his girlfriend, he picks up another woman and goes to bed with her. He then convinces this woman, a virtual stranger, to drive upstate with her boyfriend and brings the kids along on a mini-vacation.
We then experience more examples of bizarre parenting from Lenny. He places a lizard inside a cereal box as a prize for the boys; an acquaintance comes over and ends up sleeping with Lenny in his bed (it's not clear whether they have sex); and he's mugged by a man on the street at gunpoint but fails to mention the incident to the children. Lenny also takes unnecessary risks when he's with adults: he hangs out with his bizarre girlfriend who insists on meeting him at the next train stop by walking through a subway tunnel; he also hangs out with undesirable companions and they all get arrested one night for making graffiti.
The crisis of the film's second act occurs after Lenny is unable to find a babysitter for the children but must show up at his job as a projectionist. He ends up giving the kids what he thinks is a small dosage of sedatives but they fail to wake up in the morning. A doctor friend comes over and informs Lenny that the children are okay but in a coma which they might not wake up from for a couple of days or even a week. You've really got to your suspend your disbelief that a doctor wouldn't have called the police in this situation. As it turns out, all's well that ends well when the children wake up after being out cold for about two days.
The film's denouement occurs when Lenny decides to abduct the children and move to a new apartment. The Safdies indicate that this actually happened to them at the hands of their father but ultimately he wasn't arrested in real life. In most child abduction cases, the offending parent is much more cunning than the impulsive Lenny. What happens is the children are usually taken out of state. Here, Lenny remains in New York City, where presumably he will be ultimately caught and arrested for child abduction.
There's are some very nice things about 'Daddy Longlegs', particularly Bronstein's performance as the irresponsible parent. The Safdies also utilize quite a number of non-professional actors to very good effect in this film. On the down side, the film's cinema verite style is dated and I hope that the Safdies will be able to prove they're capable of shooting in different genres and styles in the future. Finally, the other characters in the film are virtual ciphers; they have no back story and are only there to highlight Lenny's impulsivity and idiosyncrasies.
Perhaps the most admirable aspect of Daddy Longlegs is the creators' forgiving nature. Despite not being treated very well by their father as children, they have managed to forgive him as adults and in the fictional arena, have created a complex portrait of a fictional father who is both loving and cruel at the same time.
This is a deeply unsettling film about a manic, terrible father who thinks it's more important to be your child's friend instead of a parent. Constantly in motion, always late, never thinking clearly, making awful choices, Ronald Bronstein gives a fantastic performance in a part that would be unforgivable is less-able hands. Think Modern Family's Phil (Ty Burrell) if he were divorced from Claire, moved to a New York studio apartment, and had custody of the kids for only 2 weeks a year. Even for that short period of time, he still can't get it together.
One sequence in particular, when he devises a terrible solution to leaving the kids home alone, goes so wrong, I was filled with a horrible feeling of dread. This is a Dad with the worst decision-making process EVER! Worse than DeNiro in THIS BOY'S LIFE. Worse than Darth Vader! Worse than the Godfather!
Shot verite-style, the movie hurtles you along with Bronstein's ADD character as he juggles a girlfriend, a movie projectionist job, a justifiably enraged ex-wife, a trick, and weary neighbors, all while trying to take care of his two boys. Although he has a light spirit, which proves sweet and funny at times, he just seems like a guy who should NEVER be allowed unsupervised around his kids. Obviously that's the point here, so I don't mean to get all pedantic about it. Some people are just this desperate and crazy, and this movie tells us this in all it's crazy, loopy, fly-on-the-wall glory.
The film proceeds along a low tech near-mumblecore path which suits the subject well.
Ronald Bronstein does give an unforgettable performance as the Dad who is overflowing with love but can't quite become a grown-up. From what I've read, Joshua and Ben Safdie made the film as a tribute to their real-life father, who had custody of them for just two weeks a year. I could see why the Safdie boys would find those two weeks with their crazy Dad so memorable.
The film starts beautifully, with actual footage of them dancing in the living room with Dad during one of these visits. But you immediately get the sense of how Dad was a bit unhinged. Why did he have to be nearly naked while dancing with his young sons? The dancing is adorable. And the boys are obviously enraptured by their Dad. But why do it in only a pair of thin boxers?
As we later learn, Dad also had boyfriends and girlfriends sleeping over during their two-week stays. Why couldn't he put his dalliances on hold just for the two weeks when the boys were visiting? I'm sure Josh and Ben Safdie have been asking themselves such questions for years.
There is a harrowing scene involving sleeping pills, the details of which I won't give away. But for the most part we watch Dad struggle to do things like get a babysitter so he can do a late-shift at work or go out on a date. As remarkable as Bronstein is as an actor, the tedium does start to wear thin.