DirectorJosh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Release Date(s)2009 (August 16, 2022)
Studio(s)IFC Films (Criterion – Spine #1138)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Daddy Longlegs is a semi-autobiographical film written by Josh and Benny Safdie about an irresponsible father and his misadventures over a two-week period when he has custody of his two young sons.
Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) is a 34-year-old Manhattan film projectionist and the father of two boys, ages 5 and 7. He’s also a monumental screw-up in terms of parenting. He’s devoted to his kids, yet behaves in ways that are irresponsible, thoughtless, and often dangerous to them.
Lenny is the kind of father who sends his kids (Sage and Frey Ranaldo) to a supermarket several blocks away by themselves with a shopping list and a large amount of cash, to buy groceries and lug the heavy bags home. He argues with his ex-wife for increased time with the boys, but once he has them, he enlists friends and neighbors to babysit.
Perpetually manic, with a childish streak, Lenny is more a big, goofy buddy than a parent. His kids love rough-tussling with him, seeing him do headstands on the street, and standing up to the school principal on their behalf when they’ve acted out. But once the boys are installed in his cramped, claustrophobic New York City apartment, he blows them off at night to see his girlfriend, picks a fight with a homeless man, gets arrested for spraying graffiti with his numbskull friends, and resorts to a life-threatening solution when he has to work an extra night shift and can’t get a babysitter. Though well intentioned, his questionable actions are dire enough to elicit gasps. Lenny puts his own wishes above his kids’ safety.
Bronstein, who wrote and directed the indie film Frownland, is on the other side of the camera in Daddy Longlegs. His Lenny is a quirky New York character and would be funny if we weren’t frequently appalled by how he’s treating his kids. He and the boys adore each other but his short cuts to child care, irresponsible decisions, and outright selfishness make him an abuser, though an unintentional one. Since the film unfolds from Lenny’s point of view, we’re ready to be in his corner when he has telephone and in-person conversations with his former wife (Leah Singer), until we learn that she’s the one with common sense and parental responsibility. As she upbraids him for his shortcomings, we have to agree that he is, indeed, a failure as a father. The fact that Bronstein is able to show the strong bond Lenny has with his kids provides the balance and gives us hope that he will reform.
Sage and Frey Ranaldo are sweet-faced boys who elicit sympathy with their often confused expressions, frustration with their father, and physical weariness. Lenny treats them more as encumbrances than his own kids, and puts his “father” hat on only when his selfish priorities aren’t calling. Both boys are good actors and absolutely charming, even when their characters get into normal kid mischief.
The Safdies infuse the film with local color with many scenes taking place on the streets of Manhattan. Much of the film is shot with shaky handheld cameras to provide a cinema verite vibe, as if the directors are flaunting the film’s indie pedigree, and the picture quality is intentionally grainy to give the film the look of having been made in the late 80s/early 1990s.
Daddy Longlegs was shot by cinematographers Josh Safdie and Brett Jutkiewicz on 16 mm film with Arriflex 416 cameras and Zeiss lenses, finished as a digital intermediate, and printed on 35 mm film in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. The Criterion Collection presents a new 4K digital transfer, which was created from the film’s 35 mm digital intermediate negative, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with the final approval of Josh and Benny Safdie. The picture displays nice grain, but there are occasional scratches that appear as white vertical lines. Most scenes are shot with hand-held cameras, giving the film a jittery look that complements Lenny’s manic behavior. Lighting is poor in many interior scenes, with just silhouettes visible. Outdoor scenes have a gritty, urban feel, and appear to have been shot with hidden cameras to include pedestrians, moving traffic, etc. The color palette is muted, with few primary colors. Browns, greys, dark greens, and blacks dominate.
The soundtrack is an English 2.0 LPCM. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear, distinct, and well-blended with ambient street noise and sound effects. There are stretches of the film in which there’s no dialogue and visuals carry the story. In those scenes, there’s ambient noise heard through open windows (indoors) or traffic (outdoors). The music by Michael Hurley, David Sandholm, and Matthew Volz is used sparingly to enhance mood in specific scenes.
Daddy Longlegs on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection contains the following bonus materials:
- Family Affair: Sage, Frey, Leah & Lee (25:00)
- The Universe Is Out There; Josh and Benny Safdie (54:55)
- Supervised Visit (1:39)
- Deleted Scenes: Pizza and TV (:39)
- Deleted Scenes: Dale and Leni (2:44)
- Deleted Scenes: Mr. Mouth (2:31)
- Deleted Scenes: Suspension Vacation (1:07)
- Deleted Scenes: The Party at Norbert’s (3:19)
- Deleted Scenes: Go Crazy (2:14)
- Deleted Scenes: The Tow Truck (2:07)
- Deleted Scenes: The Saddest Sandwich (1:43)
- Second Stop from Jupiter (12:28)
- CNN Breaking: Benny Safdie Boards Plane to Portugal (:38)
- Why? (This Movie Exists) (2:31)
- There’s Nothing You Can Do (3:59)
- Talk Show (10:32)
- Trailer (2:05)
Family Affair: Sage, Frey, Leah & Lee – Following a chance encounter with Josh Safdie on the streets of New York City, real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo were cast as co-leads. Sage and Frey, along with their parents, Leah and Lee, discuss the making and release of the film and how the Safdies’ autobiographical first feature remains an unforgettable family experience for them.
The Universe Is Out There – This 2017 documentary by Michael Chaiken was produced for the Criterion Channel and filmed around the shooting of Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time (2017). An intimate portrait of the brothers, the film shows them discussing their evolution as filmmakers, while key collaborators, including cinematographer Sean Price Williams and filmmaker-writer-editor Ronald Bronstein, offer insight into their unique working relationships with the Safdies. Josh and Benny’s father, Alberto Safdie, reflects on raising his sons and the emotional impact of Daddy Longlegs.
Supervised Visit – For Sage and Frey Ranaldo’s first meeting with Ronald Bronstein, who would play their father in Daddy Longlegs, Bronstein and filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie wrote a script for the session. The goal was to transfer the relationship the Safdies already had with the boys to the actor. The resulting footage was shot to test different filters and lenses. It also introduced Sage and Frey to the Safdies’ observational filmmaking style.
Second Stop from Jupiter – This 2011 short documentary by Becky Luxani offers an impressionistic behind-the-scenes look. Narrated by artist Leah Singer, mother of the film’s child co-leads, Sage and Frey Ranaldo, it assembles footage, photographs, and drawings by Singer, Josh Safdie, and others.
CNN Breaking – This is a brief news item about one of the Safdies heading off to Europe.
Why? (This Movie Exists) – In this short promotional film by the Safdie brothers, Benny Safdie hits the streets and subways of New York City in a desperate bid to drum up interest and an audience for the May 2010 New York City theatrical release of Daddy Longlegs.
There’s Nothing You Can Do – This 2008 short film by Josh and Benny Safdie was made in the weeks leading up to filming. Fiction confronts reality in this guerilla-theater-style experiment starring Benny as a buttoned-up, harried New York City commuter, alongside several Safdie collaborators, including Ronald Bronstein.
Talk Show – Daddy Longlegs was the result of Josh and Benny Safdie’s work with the independent film group Red Bucket Films, a loose collective of New York-based artists who, in the early 2000s, worked together on a diverse range of moviemaking. This debut episode of the series Talk Show, created, directed and edited in 2010 by production designer Sam Lisenco, offers an inside look at the irreverent, wildly creative spirit of Red Bucket Films and features appearances by Lisenco and several other members of the cast and crew.
Booklet – The enclosed 36-page booklet includes the essay Evaluation of Parenting Skills of Leonard Sokol by clinical psychologist Oren S. Lang with 12 accompanying black-and-white photos; an interview with Josh and Benny Safdie by Jerome Momcilovic from April 2009; cast and credits list; and details about the film’s digital transfer.
Daddy Longlegs is an infuriating, sometimes harrowing tale of parental self-centeredness often resulting in neglect. There are lighter moments, but the ultimate takeaway is astonishment at how unfit Lenny is to be in charge of his two young children, no matter how much he loves them.
- Dennis Seuling