Film Review: Daddy Longlegs

Handmade New York indie about a disheveled, divorced dad on his annual two-week time with his kids was likely cathartic for the sibling filmmakers, but the movie shambles as much as its protagonist.

If Kramer from "Seinfeld" were a dad, he'd be something like Ronald Bronstein’s Lenny Sokol in Daddy Longlegs, a Manhattan movie projectionist with more enthusiasm and good intentions than good sense. Living in a dumpy studio apartment to which his girlfriend Leni (Eleonore Hendricks) has a key, he nonetheless leaves his two very young school-age sons alone overnight while he goes to a local bar and picks up a girl with whom he stays over. (Later in the film, however, Lenny inexplicably gets panicky about the idea of leaving them alone overnight.)

The boys themselves, Sage and Frey (real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo, sons of Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, who has a cameo), who are on a two-week visitation with Lenny, are whiny and prone to acting out—which isn't surprising given the animosity between the loving but belligerent and alienating Lenny and his ex-wife, Paige (Leah Singer).

A semiautobiographical drama by brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie, this low-budget, New York City indie is admirably unflinching but so loose narratively that whatever larger point it wants to make about parenting or childhood or divorce or forgiveness gets lost in a forest of irrelevant detours and shoehorned characters. The handheld camera and what appears to be natural lighting throughout adds a ratty verisimilitude that makes the proceedings feel authentic, but the movie is nearly an hour in before the filmmakers settle on any sort of real plot. At this point, the sheer level of Lenny's irresponsibility and street-hustler mentality makes the film rubberneckingly magnetic.

Originally titled Go Get Some Rosemary on its initial 2009 festival play, Daddy Longlegs is surely resonant with the filmmakers, who show genuine talent, and was doubtlessly cathartic for them, but there's little more here than a picaresque slice of life with a paternal though not particularly skilled single dad in lower-income, working-class Manhattan. For all its slightness, though, the emotions play as real: The look that star Bronstein conjures up when the kids' mom taxis them away when two weeks are over is almost worth the price of admission. Plus, there's some rueful amusement to be had in someone who doesn't know how to be a parent using a cliché parenting phrase like "Don't make me come over there, I'm not kidding"—because all his parenting knowledge is received and not firsthand.

The iconic New York City filmmaker Abel Ferrara, miscredited as "Abel Ferra" on the film's official website, plays a mugger, charismatically, in one scene. Standing in for the theatre at which Lenny works are Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater (interiors) and the Cinema Village (exterior).