If John Cassavetes had lived long enough to shoot a Noah Baumbach script, the result would look something like Daddy Longlegs (formerly titled Go Get Some Rosemary). Keep in mind that Cassavetes' career peaked during the 1970s, and this imaginary collaboration would have taken place some 20-30 years later. The feature-length debut of the Safdie brothers, who have established themselves as short-film specialists, is a mildly entertaining character study of an inept part-time father who alternately views his two sons as an audience or an inconvenience. It is the type of aggressively autobiographical text that, by all appearances, attempts to replicate actual events, and thus invites the audience (and reviewers) to similarly extend our assessments of the characters' actions and behaviors into our own reality. However, this condition is weirdly conflicted by the fact that the film consists entirely of encapsulated anecdotes and adventures whose repercussions rarely even reach into the ostensible world of the characters, let alone our own plane of existence. Thus, we are simultaneously asked to deepen and dismiss our judgment, and this schizophrenic tendency renders the film as little more than superficial amusement, driven by an exemplary central performance.
Unknown actor Ronald Bronstein embodies Lenny, the frantic father figure, with charismatic exuberance and a spirit of benevolent mischief. A disheveled New York City bachelor with a dead-end job as a film projectionist, Lenny manages to transform into "Dadman" for the two weeks per year that he gets custody of his sons, Sage and Frey, while their mother is on vacation. Lenny does his very best to pack his precious fortnight with as many capricious antics as possible, such that the film plays more like a progression of condensed sitcom episodes than a sustained narrative. For example, during the "Upstate" sequence, Lenny mooches a trip to the north from a woman he has a one-night stand with, and then smuggles his kids into the deal for a free lakeside vacation. But after the Safdies meticulously portray the monotony of the long, awkward car ride, and provide some initial silliness on the lake involving a crooning water skier, they inexplicably cut back to the city, where life goes on as if the whole trip never happened. Another segment pays off gratifyingly when the boys receive the surprise gift of a salamander, but then the creature is promptly forgotten for the rest of film and most likely starves to death while the characters immerse themselves in other temporary distractions. The disjunctive script eventually bottoms out when the Safdies actually resort to a dream sequence in the last 15 minutes of the film, an unforgivable screenwriting sin which wouldn't be tolerated in Filmmaking 101 at a community college. The only continuous dramatic tension comes from waiting to see if the two shaggy-headed sons will actually survive their paternal exodus, as Lenny's parental habits progress from merely eccentric to criminally delinquent, but, of course, that question is somewhat undermined by the fact that the producers and directors of the film are the ones being truly neglectful.
The Safdies employ intimate handheld cinematography throughout, giving each shot an irritable twitch, which is further exaggerated when their camera repeatedly loses focus for a few seconds in the midst of a shot. This annoying visual tic might be explained by the film's absurdly low budget, but it is conspicuous enough to hint at some symbolic purpose or else a superficial attempt to establish an aesthetic trademark. Perhaps Daddy Longlegs will enter the annals of film history as the first "Blur Core" movie, but it has little hope of achieving notoriety on a more significant level.
Daddy Longlegs on AllMovie
Daddy Longlegs (2010)