KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Daddy Longlegs"
Related Story: Review: 'Daddy Longlegs'
KPBS FM Radio Film Review: “Daddy Longlegs”
By Beth Accomando
Air date: July 15, 2010
Small, ultra-low budget films always have a tough time finding an audience but it’s even tougher during the summer season of Hollywood blockbusters. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says it’s great that Reading (pronounced REDDING) Cinemas is making room for indie films like “Daddy Longlegs” on its schedule.
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(Tag:) “Daddy Longlegs” opens Friday at Reading’s (pronounced REDDING’s) Gaslamp Stadium Theaters. You can find more of Beth’s reviews online at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie.
Lenny has an interesting approach to parenting. So when he has to move in a hurry he takes the fridge and packs it full of toys.
CLIP “I got all your toys in here. We’re only taking the essentials and guess what I consider essential, the games.”
But having a dad like Lenny is not always fun and games. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has a review of the new film “Daddy Longlegs, coming up later on Morning Edition.
For two weeks out of the year, Lenny is responsible for his two small sons. But even that short time frame seems taxing for the immature, minimally employed, divorced dad. Take this encounter with the school principal.
CLIP Principal: You need a lesson in parenting?
Lenny: Oh I do? And who are you?
Lenny may look like an adult but he certainly doesn’t act like one. Now that can be fun. Like when he walks on his hands down a New York street with his kids in tow.
CLIP Hold on to my beltloops.
Parental responsibility remains not only out of Lenny’s grasp but rather out of his realm of comprehension. So when he gets called into work he simply assumes his girlfriend will pick up the slack.
CLIP I have to pull an all nighter… You don’t understand. I am going to lose my job… I can’t I have to work.
And later when he fails to pick up his kids from school he has a run in with his ex and had only the lamest of excuses.
CLIP Lenny: This is my screw up I’m entitled to screw up in my two weeks, you can screw up the rest of the year.
Mom: I don’t screw up.
Ronald Bronstein's performance makes Lenny totally believable. We see that he can be fun but he can also be frustrating, infuriating, and even dangerous. In fact, there are times when this film plays like a cautionary horror story as when Lenny gives his kids a watered down sleeping pill so they won’t wake while he’s gone.
CLIP Doctor:They are in what’s called stage 4 sleep, practically a coma.
Lenny: They’re gonna wake up? They’re okay?
Doctor: No they’r not okay, you are so lucky.
Lenny’s inability to realize the danger he put his kids in is scary. There are times when his behavior could be labeled abusive or at the very least negligent. So in that respect he’s almost fascinating – like watching a train wreck. But the problem with the film is that the filmmakers seem to think that he’s more endearing than he is.
CLIP Lenny: Presto! Wow where did you go? They disappeared…
Filmmaking brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie open their film with a dedication that suggests the film might be about their own father. There’s an intimacy to their portrait of Lenny and a sense of detail that seems to come from firsthand experience.
The dedication reveals a certain love and nostalgia for a father who offered “fun as a responsibility, lights on during the daytime, and a fridge full of games.” But after watching this film the mom in me said this man should only be allowed supervised visits with his kids.
Part of the problem is that the filmmakers look to John Cassavetes as their cinematic father, inheriting his penchant for handheld camera, overlapping dialogue, and jump cutting. But they have failed to develop his depth and humanity. In a Cassavetes film, we had seriously flawed individuals and even if we couldn’t muster affection for them we could always see them as painfully human. That humanizing never quite happens with Lenny, and that’s where the film comes up short. We get a well-drawn portrait in terms of detail but no insight into him.
CLIP: I don’t think you have any sense of what it’s like for me right now…
The Safdie brothers are part of mumblecore and I have yet to be impressed by this film movement. Mumblecore filmmakers favor jerky camerawork and muddy images that try to make ugly a style. Their approach also suggets that if nothing happens and it’s boring then it must be real. But mumblecore is proving to be as reliant on conventions as the Hollywood system it claims to be rebelling against. But sometimes their low budget obscures the clichés.
Another thing that differentiates the mumblecore movement from other indie filmmakers is love of cinema. The Safdies make Lenny a film projectionist. That would be a romantic job for cinephile filmmakers like Tarantino or Woody Allen. Yet we never sense any affection for film from the Safdies or their character. So the mumblecore disciplines do not seem to come to filmmaking from a passion for film but rather from a desire to document themselves. This narcissism is one reason I’ve found it difficult to warm up to the mumblecore movement.
“Daddy Longlegs” serves up a compellingly watchable portrait of a man not quite ready for parenthood or responsibility. Whether you like the film or find it horrific may depend on your parental status.
For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.