AWFJ Women On Film – “Daddy Longlegs” – Review by Susan Granger

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What does it mean to be a parent? Who determines the role and what are the responsibilities? Those questions are explored in Josh and Benny Safdie’s bittersweet, semi-autobiographical – and obviously cathartic – comedy about their father.

For two weeks of the year, Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) has custody of his two grade-school age sons, Sage and Frey. He’s an undisciplined, perpetually manic, self-absorbed film projectionist who lives in a cramped, claustrophobic New York City studio apartment. More playmate than parent, Lenny may have had the best of intentions but his actions are questionable enough to warrant the intervention of social services. Always eager for impetuous, improvised, often reckless adventures, Lenny gets arrested and jailed overnight for painting graffiti on a wall near his apartment, lets the kids draw and print out pornographic cartoons and watch their fill of horror movies – that is, when he’s not parking them with a neighbor or giving them sedatives so they won’t awaken when he’s out pursuing his complicated love life.

Now 24 and 26 – having made “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” (2008) about a kleptomaniac – the Safdie brothers have vividly re-imagined various incidents in their childhood with the help of videotapes and photographs taken by their parents who separated when Benny was six months old and Josh was two. Instead of auditioning professional actors to play their incompetent father, they chose Ronald Bronstein, a real-life projectionist and director of “Frownland” (2007), whom Josh met at the South by Southwest Festival. He’s also credited as a co-writer and editor. To portray themselves as children, the Safdies found brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo, sons of Lee Ranaldo, the guitarist of Sonic Youth, and the youngsters’ real-life mother, artist Leah Singer, plays their exasperated, on-screen mother.

As a shaggy character study and grungy, low-budget, naturalistic, urban documentary with jittery camera work, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Daddy Longlegs” is a caustic, surreal 7. The Safdie’s next project is called “Uncut Diamonds,” drawing on memories of their father’s experiences working in Manhattan’s diamond district.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.