Thursday, June 24, 2010

Papa Was a Rolling Stone

DADDY LONGLEGS / Go Get Some Rosemary
(Ben and Joshua Safdie, US, 35mm, 98 mins.)

Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
--The Temptations

Some people grow up with dads who are, well, dads. It isn't that their fathers don't have other interests or play other roles--husband, son, employee, etc.--it's that "dad" always comes first (at least in the minds of their children). Other people grow up with dads who are characters, with personalities so strong they subsume every other role they play, which doesn't mean they don't try to be good fathers. Just that it's a lot harder.

The character at the center of Daddy Longlegs, the first feature from Benny and Josh Safdie, is that kind of guy (on his own, Josh directed 2008's The Pleasure of Being Robbed.) In fact, that's what bystanders probably say when they see him coming, "Hey! It's that guy." Meet him once, and you'll never forget him. The thing is, you might not want to meet him again. He's like Vincent Gallo's whiny ex-con in Buffalo 66: funny from a distance, but far less so within close proximity.

Played by Frownland director Ronald Bronstein, he's a jittery, loud-mouthed perpetual motion-machine, filled with a combination of crippling insecurity and unbridled bravado. In other words, he's a New Yorker. A projectionist by trade, comic collector by proclivity, he's also a divorced dad with two rambunctious boys, nine-year-old Sage and seven-year-old Frey (played by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo's sons...Sage and Frey).

The film covers two weeks during which his ex-wife grudgingly hands them over to him. Lenny loves his sons, his sons love him. What could go wrong? As it turns out: everything. But Daddy Longlegs isn't a Judd Apatow comedy where viewers are ex-
pected to laugh at his desperate attempts to feed his kids and hang on to his job.

Which isn't to suggest that the film lacks humor (hence the comparison to Buffalo 66, which otherwise follows a different path), but that a sense of unease permeates the proceedings, building to a feeling of dread before ending in a flourish of surrealism.

He may sound like a loner, but Lenny has a girlfriend, which isn't such a bad thing (his ex is also remarried to a man played by Ranaldo). She even likes his kids, but that doesn't mean she's ready to settle down. Nor is Lenny. The minute he gets a break from her and them, he picks up a woman and spends the night with her.

Click here for the trailer

Instead of taking off the next day, he invites himself to join her on a trip upstate. Just as he neglects to explain his domestic situation, she's equally neglectful, re-
sulting in a funny, surprising, and rather lovely adventure. But as in all sequences: disaster lurks around every corner (keep an eye out for Abel Ferrara as "Robber").

And so it goes until the situation becomes almost unbearable. This is the point at which the tone shifts from the anxious arena of Husbands to the nightmarish environs of Eraserhead, to the extent that I had a dream days later in which the David Lynch and Safdie films bled into one and came to life--and I was the freaked-out parental figure (though I should mention that it wasn't my first Eraserhead-inspired dream).

At the press screening, a local critic--who has two kids--arrived late and left early. He didn't miss much more than the credits, but the film clearly rubbed him the wrong way (and he might not have wanted to be there in the first place). He's just one ex-
ample, but I can imagine others who won't want to spend 98 minutes with a self-de-
feating character who never stops talking, never stops moving, and trails disaster in his wake like Pigpen trailed clouds of dust (the Safdies say they looked to their own father for inspiration). And yet, the more I think about it, the more I like it.

That Lenny's dilemma invaded my dreams, even though I don't have any kids, in-
dicates the extent to which it got under my skin, making Daddy Longlegs the oppo-
site of escapist entertainment. But if your father, like mine, was a character first, a dad second, you'll probably relate. And maybe you'll even feel a little less alone.

Daddy Longlegs plays the Northwest Film Forum 6/25-7/1 (7 and 9pm). Directors in attendance Fri.-Sun. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. between Pike and Pine. For more information, please call 206-829-7863 or click here. Images from OutNow!

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