To paraphrase Tolstoy, all good parents are alike, but every bad parent is bad in his or her own way. This is certainly true in American movies, where portrayals of wayward moms and dads have ranged from lovingly eccentric (The Royal Tenenbaums) to unforgivably flawed (Lolita) to downright evil (The Manchurian Candidate).
Lenny, the divorced 30-something father who is the protagonist of Daddy Longlegs, playing this weekend at NWFF, is not easy to categorize. And that’s what makes the movie compelling. In many ways, Lenny is a pretty good guy; during the two weeks a year he has custody of his young sons, he does his best to clothe, feed and entertain them. He takes them waterskiing, introduces them to some colorful characters, and makes them actually look at the exhibits in the Museum of Natural History.
Lenny’s best, though, is severely limited by his lack of common sense. He swears at the boys’ principal, leaves them with strangers, and sends them out alone into the Brooklyn streets where he was just robbed at gunpoint. In a comedy, such behavior would be treated as charming and harmless; in a melodrama, one of the kids would end up in the hospital (or worse). But Daddy Longlegs is something else, which leaves you not knowing what to expect – or what to feel. It effectively communicates the confusion that such children experience.
Brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, who wrote and directed Daddy Longlegs (with some help from the lead, Ronnie Bronstein, also a director), describe it as “emotionally autobiographical,” meaning it is about their memories of their father, whom Lenny is based on, rather than facts. Regarding the delicate balance they achieve between accusal and sympathy, they write: “Our obligation to adulthood demands expose, whereas our dedication to childhood screams and cries love! It’s somewhere in between.”