An edgy flick about fathers and sons 

The genuine indie “Daddy Longlegs” takes us through the rapids with a frightfully irresponsible father who has two young kids in his care — and not a hint of what that means — as he lurches from crisis to crisis.

Reaping comedy from dangerously delinquent child-raising skills and presenting an infuriating protagonist as worthy of serious consideration, emerging sibling filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie have made a nervy — and simultaneously entertaining and horrifying — little movie.

Working in naturalistic, realist mode (handheld look, improvised action within a preset structure) with an occasional curve into the fantastic, the Safdies immerse us in the chaotic life of Lenny (Ronald Bronstein), a manic, self-centered and recklessly fun-loving divorced 30-something Manhattan rep-house projectionist.

The action transpires over Lenny’s annual two weeks spent with elementary-school-age sons Sage and Frey (Sage and Frey Ranaldo).

During that time, Lenny does a handstand on the sidewalk, takes the kids on a road trip with virtual strangers and leaves the boys unsupervised at the cinema (they go bonkers with the photocopier), in his milder moments.

His means of keeping the kids in check when he can’t find a babysitter is particularly appalling. “If you weren’t my friend, I’d call the police,” says one character.

At other points, Lenny irks his girlfriend (Eleonore Hendricks), argues with his ex-wife (Leah Singer), who understandably worries about the kids’ welfare, and goes on a graffiti spree.

The Safdies, who have cited John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence” and Mike Leigh’s “Bleak Moments” as influences, come close to exasperating us with Lenny’s inexhaustible immaturity.

But by maintaining an efficient dark-comic tone and presenting Lenny (who they’ve said is based on their own father) with dimension as well as harshness, they deliver an edgy funny-bone tickler, a down-to-earth horror-zone rouser, and a memorable protagonist who, at peak points, captures the tragedy that often lies at the heart of comedy.

Credit for Lenny’s believability also goes to Bronstein, who is himself a filmmaker and a projectionist and who collaborated closely with the Safdies to create the character.

Given no back story as a sympathy device, Bronstein’s Lenny is a force of misspent energy who achieves laughs with his outrageousness and earns our tolerance by conveying sadness and frustration beneath his antics.

The child actors, meanwhile, are wonderfully natural as their characters react to how erratic their father is, their responses ranging from joy to bafflement to trepidation.


Daddy Longlegs (3 stars)

Starring Ronald Bronstein, Sage Ranaldo, Frey Ranaldo, Eleonore Hendricks.

Written and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

Not rated

Running time 1 hour 38 minutes

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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