Daddy Longlegs (2009) Poster

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The troubling virtues of irresponsibility
Chris Knipp21 May 2010
For those who can put up with its (largely intentional) jumpy hand-held 16 mm. look, Daddy Longlegs is a heck of a stimulating and complex piece of work. It's autobiographical, yet collaborative and imaginative. It's improvisational, yet very well planned. It's appalling, yet also appealing -- a film that sticks in the craw but also lingers in the mind and the heart. It signals the arrival of yet another team of film-making brothers whom we need to watch.

On the face of it, this is the story of a criminally irresponsible divorced dad who gets to spend two weeks out of a year with his two boys, aged around seven and nine. Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) is young and childlike himself, thin, agile, athletic, but graying, terminally unconventional, a hipster, unstable, a film projectionist, a man whose life he has no firm grip on, but determined to love his kids and make his time with them as memorable as possible. When he picks up the boys, he immediately launches into dangerous play, walking on his hands across the street with them. Sage (Sage Ranaldo) and Frey (Frey Ranaldo) alternate between being delighted, excited, and scared to death by Lenny's games.

He has a one-night stand, and then the next day forces himself, with the boys, on the woman and her boyfriend when the latter drives upstate for the weekend. (The story otherwise takes place very much in a Manhattan whose wild grunginess and seemingly greater-then-normal tolerance for irresponsible behavior suggest the New York of the 1970's.) He takes the boys to play squash (a rough game for two pipsqueaks). He gets mugged by a peddler-thug (played by Abel Ferrara) coming home by himself with groceries and ice cream cones, but never mentions the incident to the boys or anyone. He has a date with an on-and-off girlfriend. With her around in the morning, he gives the boys a pet lizard he hides as a prize in a cereal box.

At least one of the things he does is really awful. He unexpectedly pulls an all-nighter at his job, and, because he can't find anybody to babysit with the boys, gives them crushed bits of adult sleeping pills. They go into a deep sleep and cannot be awakened. This lasts for several days; it could have lasted longer. A doctor friend who comes in explains this and says if he weren't a friend, he'd report this to the police. The really creepy feeling this incident gives you lingers on. But it ends happily. The boys are fine. And that goes for the whole experience, though this does not make Lenny's nightmare parenting techniques okay. The film is meant to arouse contradictory feelings and express the filmmakers' own mixed emotions toward their real dad.

Watching Lenny is like witnessing a train wreck but Bronstein is very good at keeping you from hating him. So are Benny and Josh, filmmakers, of course, who made this out of their own childhoods with a wealth of conflicting emotion. Their artistry and luck pay off in how complex the feelings are that Daddy Longlegs evokes. The film (and the collaboration with Bronstein) are a triumphant combination of cool reason in the planning and warm emotion in the making. Having had two brothers in charge who have that contrast -- one more logical, the other more romantic -- also doubtless helps maintain the fertile balance.

Lenny is more like a hyper older brother than a father, but that can be a lot of fun for little boys -- for a while anyway. Most of the year Sage and Frey are with their mother (played by the young actors' real mother -- wife of the lead guitarist of Sonic Youth), who, from what we see of her, provides a grownup and sensible environment.

But it's to be noted that Josh and Benny Safdie made this movie, about this riskier side of their experience, to evoke their childhood. Happy families are all alike -- the small, crazy part of your youth spent with a divorced parent may be more memorable and complex and stimulating to the art that goes into making films than the safe, grownup, responsible part that nurtured you and protected you and kept you sane. With divorced parents, you have two different worlds you move between; the "happy"-"unhappy" distinction may not apply. The distinction might better be "safe but a little bit boring" versus "unsafe but wild fun."

The Safdies have made clear that Lenny is an original creation, based on their dad, but built up very much in collaboration with Ronald Bronstein, who, though to them he looked remarkably like a classic silent film actor, was not an actor at all but a filmmaker whom they met at Austin's hip SXSW festival where they were all celebrated for their work. They sat down with Bronstein for days of talk in a diner where they hashed out all their ideas about their father and learned what Bronstein could internalize and what he rejected. Thus an improvisational collaboration grew. Bronstein worked constantly with the Ranaldo boys, always in character (a kooky new play dad) even when they were not shooting. Another element was the Safdies' and their team's guerrilla street film-making techniques used to incorporate non-actors along the way. "If Jean Vigo, John Cassavetes, Buster Keaton, Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin had a deformed child, we would be their best friend," the brothers told Interview magazine recently. This is a richer and more deeply thought-through mix than we usually get from Cassavetes' youthful Mumblecore offspring, a more intense mining of memory and experience.

Interviews with Benny and Josh show a bright and happy pair of young men who finish each other's sentences. It looks like they grew up just fine, their time with their real father having taught them to be alert and resourceful. Those dangerous, irresponsible weeks were a pebble that produced a pearl.
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Interesting, offbeat tale told in cinema verite style, chronicling Dad with dubious parenting skills
Turfseer5 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Created by newcomer brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie, 'Daddy Longlegs' was shot on 16 millimeter and has the appearance of a film created in the late 70s (it seems like this is when the film is supposed to take place). It's up for the John Cassavettes Award as part of the independent cinema Spirit Awards in 2011 and reminds one of a Cassavettes film, shot in a cinema verite style, with partially a jazz score underneath. I recently heard the Safdies speak about the film in person and they indicated that it's loosely based on experiences with their father who divorced their mother years ago.

Daddy Longlegs is about a ne'er-do-well by the name of Lenny played by first-time actor Ronald Bronstein. Lenny is divorced from his wife and gets to spend two weeks out of the year with his 7 and 9 year old children, Sage and Frey (played by Sage and Frey Ranaldo in real life). Bronstein remained in character even when not on the set—for example when he visited Sage and Frey at their real school!

Daddy Longlegs is the portrait of a parent who obviously loves his children, but through his irresponsible behavior, ultimately places their lives in jeopardy. When we first meet Lenny, he defensively argues with the school principal who has taken the children out of school for picking fights with other kids. Lenny does crazy things like walking on his hands across the street with the children. After having an argument with his girlfriend, he picks up another woman and goes to bed with her. He then convinces this woman, a virtual stranger, to drive upstate with her boyfriend and brings the kids along on a mini-vacation.

We then experience more examples of bizarre parenting from Lenny. He places a lizard inside a cereal box as a prize for the boys; an acquaintance comes over and ends up sleeping with Lenny in his bed (it's not clear whether they have sex); he's mugged by a man on the street at gunpoint but fails to mention the incident to the children; and he allows the children to buy groceries by themselves at a supermarket blocks away from their apartment.

Lenny also takes unnecessary risks when he's with adults: he hangs out with his bizarre girlfriend who insists on meeting him at the next train stop by walking through a subway tunnel; he also hangs out with undesirable companions and they all get arrested one night for making graffiti.

The crisis of the film's second act occurs after Lenny is unable to find a babysitter for the children but must show up at his job as a projectionist. He ends up giving the kids what he thinks is a small dosage of sedatives but they fail to wake up in the morning. A doctor friend comes over and informs Lenny that the children are okay but in a coma which they might not wake up from for a couple of days or even a week. You've really got to your suspend your disbelief that a doctor wouldn't have called the police in this situation. As it turns out, all's well that ends well when the children wake up after being out cold for about two days.

The film's denouement occurs when Lenny decides to abduct the children and move to a new apartment. The Safdies indicate that this actually happened to them at the hands of their father but ultimately he wasn't arrested in real life. In most child abduction cases, the offending parent is much more cunning than the impulsive Lenny. What happens is the children are usually taken out of state. Here, Lenny remains in New York City, where presumably he will be ultimately caught and arrested for child abduction.

There's are some very nice things about 'Daddy Longlegs', particularly Bronstein's performance as the irresponsible parent. The Safdies also utilize quite a number of non-professional actors to very good effect in this film. On the down side, the film's cinema verite style is dated and I hope that the Safdies will be able to prove they're capable of shooting in different genres and styles in the future. Finally, the other characters in the film are virtual ciphers; they have no back story and are only there to highlight Lenny's impulsivity and idiosyncrasies.

Perhaps the most admirable aspect of Daddy Longlegs is the creators' forgiving nature. Despite not being treated very well by their father as children, they have managed to forgive him as adults and in the fictional arena, have created a complex portrait of a fictional father who is both loving and cruel at the same time.
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Great improvement from "The Pleasure of Being Robbed"
Jonk_3-1-4-125 December 2019
Only 1 year after Josh Safdie's directorial debut, came the first true collaboration between Josh and his brother Benny, and it sure is noticeable. Daddy Longlegs is a perfect combination of Josh Safdie's raw tone and passion for storytelling with Benny's creativity and comedy. While they could have used the bigger budget and crew to make a more stylised, traditional Hollywood film, the Safdies have instead opted to perfect the formula that was used in The Pleasure of Being Robbed. That film's raw perspective with a hindered believability is now a completely realized and believable world. The film is so convincingly documentary, in-fact, that it becomes almost impossible to even begin to imagine the process of writing it - absolutely everything feels improvised.

All of the acting is great, especially by the kids. The brothers had to go through a very unique directing predicament: dealing with child actors, yet they handle it masterfully. Under the direction of the Safdies, the kid's youth and inexperience somehow makes them all the more believable. It seems like in order to get good performances from all of the actors, almost every piece of dialogue had to be improvised, with only what happens in each scene being decided beforehand.

The result of all of this is a movie that makes the audience feel as though they are spying on a family, that they are watching a document of something private and personal, something not meant to be seen. The intermittent tension from the father's temper and recklessness is greatly aided by the raw, documentary approach. It doesn't feel overly dramatic or cliché, but instead gives off a much more relatable feeling that both parents and children can understand, and very much fits the unromanticized nostalgia of the story. Daddy Longlegs is a character study that feels not as though it were a study of a character, but as though it were an objective documentation of real peoples' lives, leaving it up to the viewer to make a study of what they see.
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Good enough to make me wish I'd liked it more.
MOscarbradley18 July 2018
The Safdie Brothers certainly served their apprenticeship. Their 2009 film "Daddy Longlegs" (aka "Go Get Some Rosemary"), is as independent and as close to 'cinema verite' as American cinema gets and its study of a deadbeat father's relationship with his sons is full of an improvisatorary feeling where the players don't so much act their parts as live them; we could be watching a documentary.

There's no plot, just a series of nicely observed slices of life filmed on the streets of the Safdie's native New York and showing all the promise of early Scorsese. Where it falls down is in its lack of any kind of substantial drama not, of course, that great drama happens very much in everyday life but after a certain length of time people-watching can become a tad dull. What sustains the film is the superbly naturalistic performance of Ronald Bronstein as the father, (he was also one of the film's co-writers). A newcomer, it's almost impossible to say where Bronstein ends and his character begins. He's wonderful in the part but he's also the kind of man I would cross the street to avoid, lacking as he does any sense of responsibility. The kids, too, are excellent, again not so much 'acting' as simply playing extentions of themselves. The film itself comes over as a cross between autobiography and homage and is a little too personal for mass consumption. It's sufficiently good that I wish I liked it more.
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The Dad From Hell
massadvj-12 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Let's face it. Some people are just plain too dim-witted and irresponsible to be parents. There. I just gave you the whole point of this movie, so you can save yourself the $8 On Demand fee and the time investment required to see it. Beyond that simple message, there is nothing else here. Nothing. No one is transformed, there is no hope that the protagonist will ever redeem himself, and if you react to the movie the way I did, you'll want to throw a brick through the screen in the hope that it will find the directors who wasted your time.

Some may regard this as an interesting character study, but I found very little to like about this character, so I cannot recommend it. I will say the movie may haunt you a little; but, for me, even that was unsatisfying as on reflection I found very little of substance to hang onto.

I just kept seeing everything from the point of view of the ex-wife, and I concluded that if this man had truly loved his children he would have left them alone. It is his own loneliness and need for affiliation that causes him to pursue them as he does, not any genuine love for the kids.

And that is what is so heart-breaking. It left me disgusted, and little else.
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Great movie
juliusfinch-9084917 January 2020
Go Get Some Rosemary (also titled as 'Daddy Longlegs') is a truly great film. It pulls no punches and shows the mark of some truly great up and coming filmmakers in their earlier days. It also features a wonderful and memorable performance from Ronald Bronstein, who also co-wrote the film.
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edge5477 February 2018
I'd seen several short films by the Safdie brothers who made this movie as well as the their features The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Good Time. I liked all of them, but I didn't necessarily love them. But I figured that this one would at least be worth watching, and boy was I right! From the very beginning it's wildly intriguing and entertaining, and it just keeps getting better. It feels so very real and very raw.

In a lot of way it feels just like a John Cassavetes film, which is definitely a good thing. And it doesn't feel like someone set out to try to make a film in that style, but more like they just tried to make this raw, realistic portrayal of a very interesting character, and that was how it turned out. Almost like the Cassman did it himself!

And the lead role, played by Ronald Bronstein, was seriously great and fun to watch. That guy should be in more stuff. He was perfect for the part and I'm guessing that it was probably written for him. It was honestly one of the very best performances I have seen in the last ten years. And it never lets up.

Watch this movie if you can. You won't be disappointed. But if you somehow do end up being disappointed, maybe go check out something with Chris Pratt in it instead; that may be more your speed.
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Solid and heartwarming in a peculiar way
btongninjaturtle29 August 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Presenting a sad and familiar tale, a father who gets his kids 2 weeks a year, the Safdie brothers semi-biographical story is supported by wonderful acting and very raw characters. Non moralizing, this film shows what it's like to be a parent: sometimes good sometimes bad, struggling to do the right thing often. Though steeped in mumblecore style, the film does a great job of showing a person living on the margins and dealing with it as best as possible given who he is. Fun anecdotes, hilarious scenarios, heartfelt moments, all come with an asterisk as you cringe at the parenting style and ineptitude to give his children everything they will need in life. Showing that childhood and our lives at large can be fun and sad at the same time, this movie was well worth the watch.
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Personal film revealing potential for the Safdie brothers
WhimsicalVonia21 March 2018
Daddy Longlegs (2009) Directors: The Safdie Brothers 7/10

From the brothers who will later bring us the phenomenal "Good Time", Low budget handhelds create many laughs and what the f*#$& moments, Bronstein's performance impresses by managing to be appallingly appealing, Irresponsible non-father trying his best with his 2 weeks a year 7 & 9 year old sons, Indeterminate ending to a whirlwind ride leaves one feeling the same way.

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