Pop Life


Benny and Josh Safdie, Daddy Longlegs, 2009, still from a color film in Super 16, 100 minutes. Lenny, Sage, and Frey (Ronald Bronstein, Sage Ranaldo, and Frey Ranaldo).

FEATURING SOME OF THE MOST UNHINGED parenting decisions ever made, brothers Josh and Benny Safdie’s semiautobiographical Daddy Longlegs is a moving, often hilarious, oddly buoyant tribute to a father who knows—and does—worst. Ronald Bronstein (director of 2007’s Frownland, a mordant look at social dysfunction) stars as Lenny, a wiry, wired, divorced NYC dad who has custody of his two sons, nine-year-old Sage and seven-year-old Frey (exceptionally spirited real-life siblings Sage and Frey Ranaldo), for two weeks. Lenny is often the perfect playmate for his kids, mainly because his sense of logic is about as developed as a fifth grader’s. Called into work unexpectedly and unable to find a sitter, Lenny, a projectionist, decides that giving his boys a third of a sedative is the perfect solution.

Much like Josh Safdie’s first feature, The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008), Daddy Longlegs (originally titled Go Get Some Rosemary) succeeds by assembling a superb cast of weirdos orbiting around a main character, who, though profoundly flawed, is still affectionately drawn. “Only in the world of jokes are mosquitoes that big,” Dad reassures his concerned tykes during bath time at his Murray Hill tenement, though Lenny often doesn’t know when to leave the world of jokes for the real world of paternal caretaking. With their loose, freewheeling shots of New York, Josh and Benny Safdie, filmmaking vets at the ages of twenty-five and twenty-three, respectively, have been compared to Cassavetes and Jarmusch. But just as significant a touchstone in the brothers’ first feature collaboration is Truffaut’s Small Change (1976), a deeply empathetic portrait of schoolkids figuring out both the arbitrary rules of adult authority and the complex rituals of childhood. Key scenes of Sage and Frey without Lenny—in class, during recess, drawing comics while Dad’s busy in the projection booth—reveal a tender but never sentimental admiration for half pints. Made by two directors who’ve barely entered adulthood, Daddy Longlegs is expansive enough to look back fondly at the resilience of children while forgiving the outrageously imperfect grown-up who tried to raise them.

Melissa Anderson

Daddy Longlegs screens at BAM on January 28 as part of Sundance Film Festival USA and will be released theatrically in the spring. For more details, click here.