Daddy Long Legs: A father spins a chaotic web
It is so difficult to break through to the masses with a truly handmade, low-budget independent film these days that if you want to discover these works you have to dedicate yourself to searching the quiet corners of Netflix, on-demand channels or big city repertory programs. Seattle’s own Northwest Film Forum is keeping up their end with a weeklong screening of the film Daddy Long Legs, opening tomorrow and playing through July 1st.
Directed by two brothers, Benny and Josh Safdie, the film is a warm, autobiographical depiction of their eccentric, irresponsible father, the type of Manhattan character that populated New York’s lower sides in the 70s and ‘80s. The dad, Lenny, works as a projectionist in a scruffy art house theater, lives in a cramped walk up, is divorced from the boys’ mother and seems incapable of consistency, especially when it comes to taking care of his two pre-teen sons for the two weeks a year they come to stay with him.
Daddy Long Legs, an appropriate title given Lenny’s long limbed appearance and his inability to maintain a tidy, secure web for his offspring, begins with the kids arriving for their stay and ends two weeks later with Lenny embarking on an ill-advised adventure with the boys. During the movie’s 100 minutes we watch Lenny slowly transform from a fun, loving, wild but not crazy father into something more troubling, a child-man at the mercy of impulse, quick to make wrong choices, who surrounds himself with equally ungrounded friends and lovers. The movie is scruffy but not artless, its long lens exterior scenes and grainy claustrophobic interiors reminiscent of street films of the ‘70s, in which the noise of trucks, horns, shouts and whistles formed a soundtrack for realistic dramas like Dog Day Afternoon and Panic in Needle Park.
Like Lenny, the movie is sneaky, at bit patience testing, and occasionally implausible, especially after dad gives the kids a sedative while he goes to work and they end up, frighteningly, sleeping for several days. These scenes, as well as the camera that continually loses focus, seem to make a case for a certain carelessness on the part of the directors, but in their clear-eyed view of a father that they now admit taught them to be compassionate and exuberant, they have made an unsentimental portrait of a man reluctant to take charge of his own life. As Lenny, Ronald Bronstein, also a New York filmmaker, brings a refreshing, unmannered freedom of spirit to his performance. He seems untethered to scripted dialogue, loosely physical, intense and in-the-moment. It’s a remarkable performance and one that the Sadie brothers should feel grateful for. Daddy Long Legs may have trouble reaching a large audience, but that doesn’t mean it should not be admitted to that rarefied club of films that have gotten an essential, affectionate part of New York City exactly right.