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.