Zeitgeist Films // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // December 8th, 2011
I'm entitled to screw up in my two weeks.
Our parents aren't perfect, no matter how much we might want them to be. If we start to think of them that way, then there is no doubt that we'll wind up disappointed by every misstep and poor decision that they make. Really, they're just people trying to make it just like every random individual you see on the street, but that's much easier to see as adults than while they're raising you. That's just what happened with Josh and Bennie who, in their second film, examine the case of their father. Daddy Longlegs is fiction, of course, but it's close enough.
Only allowed two weeks per year with his children, Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) does his best to make his two sons, Sage and Frey (Sage and Frey Ranaldo, the real-life sons of Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo), think that he's an awesome dad. At the same time, though, he has to be a father, and that's where he runs into trouble. He's a messed-up dude with problems to burn, but his heart is in the right place.
I was most definitely not a fan of the first feature from Josh and Bennie Safdie, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, but they show a marked improvement in their second feature. Their debut, fairly or not, got placed with the Mumblecore genre, one of the most annoying cinematic fads in recent memory, and Daddy Longlegs shares some of those attributes. It is still an observational film without much of a story, but where we watched banal, insipid characters doing dumb things in the first film, there are actually some people worth looking at in their return. That's not to say that the characters are admirable people; they aren't, but they're real and they're trying to do their best under the circumstances.
Having been fortunate enough to grow up in a two-parent household and not having a family of my own, some of the conflict and emotion associated with single parenting and custody are inevitably lost on me, but Daddy Longlegs is no less a genuinely affecting film. The Safdie brothers were children of divorce and based the story on their own experiences with their father. It's easy to see the confusion and frustration they must have felt in the film's child stars, both of whom do a fantastic job in their debut performances. Though Lenny is the main character of the film, the tone is one of looking back through the kids' memories growing up and trying to piece together who their father is and what motivated him to make the decisions we see him make.
Lenny is a manic guy, just barely employed as a projectionist, who is conflicted in everything he does. No doubt that he has it hard; only two weeks a year to spend with his kids, he tries so hard to both their friend and their father, accomplishing neither successfully. He makes incredibly selfish decisions, some that threaten the safety of the children. At the same time, he does everything in his power to keep his troubles away from them. In one scene, he has bought ice cream cones for himself and the kids and is heading to their school to pick them up and treat them, only to be accosted at gunpoint by a mugger (ably played in a cameo by cult director Abel Ferrara). It's less humiliating for him to lose his money than to have the ice cream dropped on the street, but not only does he keep the kids from knowing that, he must deal with his ex-wife berating him as an unfit father once they get home. The problem is that Lenny really is an unfit father, but the love he has for his sons is never in doubt. But love isn't enough; the kids need discipline and, since Lenny has absolutely no discipline in his own life, how can he impart that onto the kids?
On top of a story that is much more suited to my taste, Daddy Longlegs is a far better production than the first film from the Safdie brothers. While it isn't very cinematic in any traditional sense, they have more started to embrace their roots in the indie pictures of John Cassavetes and his group. They adeptly show a landscape filled with poor immigrants and huge jerks struggling in a New York City that looks thirty years old, a feel that the distinct lack of modern technology greatly enhances. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bronstein generating a ton of pathos in Lenny, when he mostly doesn't deserve it. Sage and Frey Ronaldo may have only had to be kids watching a manic dude run around, but you couldn't ask for more believable child actors. Nobody else plays a huge role in the film, but everyone puts their all into Josh and Benny Safdie, and it shows in the results.
>From Zeitgeist Films, Daddy Longlegs has been treated to an excellent package, lovely on the outside and deep on the inside. The film was shot in 16mm, so there are obvious limitations in the image transfer, but it looks as good as it possibly can. It's grainy with washed-out colors, but that's wholly intentional and the transfer is perfectly solid. The stereo sound doesn't have any noise to speak of, but is unspectacular.
What makes the disc is the packaging and features. The slimline case is housed in a painted cardboard sleeve along with two booklets. The first is a collection of images from the film along with an essay about the production and, more generally, about the Safdie brothers. The second, entitled "While They're Sleeping," is a collection of photos that the filmmakers' father took of them while they slept. It's a kind of strange inclusion, but it does make the direct connection of their own lives to those of the kids in the film. On the disc itself, we start with eight deleted scenes that give a little more background, but they have been excised for clear reasons. A making-of documentary called The Second Stop from Jupiter features footage from a number of different people, all of which looks oddly similar to the film itself. Another short piece called Go Get Some Rosemary (the working title of the film) documents the first meeting between Bronstein and the kids, with Bronstein already in character and acting crazy. A few bits of promotional fodder, including one really funny animated sequence, and a theatrical introduction close out the disc.
I was much less annoyed with Daddy Longlegs than I expected to be, given my feelings about their first film. It's a story that is at equal turns touching and frustrating, sort of like real life. With a very strong DVD package to go along with it, this is a film that indie fans should definitely seek out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Promotional Materials
* Official Site