Sundance 2010 Review: DADDY LONGLEGS
Written and Directed by: Benny and Josh Safdie
Cast: Ronald Bronstein, Sage Ranaldo, Frey Ranaldo, Eleonore Hendricks, Leah Singer, Dakota Goldhor, Abel Ferrara, Frey Sokol, Sage Sokol
You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car. Hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father. – Tod (Keanu Reeves) in PARENTHOOD, 1989
Lenny (Bronstein), the fun, flaky and near sociopathic father in Benny and Josh Safdie’s quietly infuriating film DADDY LONGLEGS, has to rank pretty high in the pantheon of terrible cinematic parents. While most God-awful screen parents abuse their kids or put them through unthinkable stress, Lenny’s biggest crime is that he loves his kids more than anything. But try as he might, he is also completely and totally incapable of taking care of them properly. From a questionable lifestyle ripe with self absorption right down to an alarming ability to make the worst possible choice ever when dealing with his kids, Lenny made me audibly groan at least four times during this film. For a longtime film critic who’s seen it all, four audible groans (the good kind, mind you. As in “ohhhh noooo”) is damn impressive.
As mentioned, Lenny is the father to two young boys named Sage and Frey. After a divorce, the court wisely issued Lenny a mere two weeks a year to spend with his kids and those happen to fall right in the middle of the school year. Bad planning by mom and the court, as getting the kids to and from school on time is an impossible task for Lenny. His boys aren’t bad kids by any stretch but, like any youth, they need structure and discipline; two things Lenny probably lost back when he was his own kids’ age. Lenny treats his boys well but models behavior towards others that is simply awful. He toys with homeless people and treats his sweet, doting girlfriend Leni (Hendricks) more like a housekeeper or nanny than someone he cares about. In many ways Lenny tries to be a buddy or goofy older brother to the kids rather than a father-which can work-when there’s a more responsible influence nearby. Here, it’s just Lenny and the boys. During quiet, “boring” times like the night when the boys are asleep, Lenny can’t wait to live his own life of screwing around, drinking, and generally being a lout. He can’t even contain himself for the two weeks he’s allowed to spend with his kids and it’s just plain upsetting.
DADDY LONGLEGS is the sort of film that is easy to let fly right by you. There’s no big, long speeches from the characters that serve to tell the audience where they’re coming from and there’s no big emotional breakdowns that sort of, hold the audiences hand as they begin to weep at the sadness onscreen. Rather, DADDY LONGLEGS just slowly unspools as Lenny makes some of the worst parenting decisions of all time. We get that he’s losing his tenuous grasp on the situation, but like the old clichéd story about men never wanting to stop and ask for directions, Lenny soldiers onward as things get worse and worse. Lenny never asks for help or admits defeat.
I really loved DADDY LONGLEGS for a few reasons. First off, the Safdie brothers have created very believable characters. So much so, I’m frightened to think the film is highly autobiographical. For as big of a fuck up Lenny is, you still kind of like him. Another thing I loved about the film is it feels like a movie about New York back in the late seventies. Having never visited the grimy, seedy New York all us movie buffs grew up on, I’ve always had a very weird feeling that I had been there before, having seen it on film so many times. New York in the seventies was its own character in films and that character got lost over the years. It felt like an old creepy uncle I loved was visiting me as I watched DADDY LONGLEGS and it was oddly comforting.
The other thing I loved about the film was its fearlessness in portraying a bad situation that’s only getting worse. Parents here are self-serving and don’t pay attention to the voices of reason. Lenny starts off as a bad parent but devolves into a worse and worse parent and the Safdie brothers never shy away from that. In fact DADDY LONGLEGS is almost baffling in its transparent, straightforward honesty and the filmmakers belief that the audience can draw their own conclusions. I truly appreciated that and wish more films had the faith and honesty this film has in its audience.
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