Josh Safdie's features probe New York City privilege. His unappreciated 2008 debut, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, looked at the gentrifier's sense of revanchist entitlement through a klepto-hipsterette, whose pathological purse-snatching served as a microcosmic form of her broader crime&emdash;"stealing" a city. The latest, Daddy Longlegs, a little older and wiser, also explores such issues of race and class, but zeroes in on the arrogance of parents, especially the Park Slope-ish kind. The conspicuously autobiographical film, co-directed by Josh's brother Ben, doubles as a portrait of disillusionment, of two kids recognizing that their fun-loving father isn't so fun after all.
Dad's played by Ronald Bronstein; it's the debut performance of a director-in-his-own-right, whose Frownland examined what also occupies the Safdies: the darker undercurrents rilling below the post-Giuliani city. Set in Murray Hill over the annual fortnight when he has custody of his elementary school-aged sons (real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo), Longlegs chronicles papa's epic, episodic irresponsibility. Both in appearance and attitude, he evokes Modern Family's clodhopping Ty Burrell, the well-meaning Cool Dad; de-sitcomized, he's by any objective standard a bad father: he sends them to the supermarket alone, he picks them up late from school. (And that's nowhere near the worst of it&emdash;wait until he puts them into near-comas.) Still, he's the sort of playful adult&emdash;he walks down the sidewalk on his hands!&emdash;treasured by children, if not ex-wives or principals. For most of its running time, the movie's on his side.
And yet the audience should be immediately skeptical, particularly of his startling dispensational sense: in the very first scene, he's designing his own off-menu hot dog, then clambering over chain-link, as though no policies or ordinances apply&emdash;he has the prerogatives special to a procreator. (Again and again, he expects a co-worker to cover a shift, a neighbor or a girlfriend to babysit.) That free-rein attitude carries through the film: he invites his family on another's vacation; his girlfriend (Pleasure's Eleonore Hendricks) enters the subway tracks in clear violation of posted signage; his kids attack teachers, pull other kids' hair, kick their father when upset; he's indignant that a mugger (Abel Ferrara, LOL) would make him drop the ice-cream cones he's holding, and, later, that the NYPD would manhandle him when undercovers spot him spray painting a storefront. His tag? "DAD," as though graffiti is a family-friendly affair, further underscoring the neutering of the city and its once-sinister signifiers.
The Safdies sharply realize that city, filling it with classic, only-in-New-York eccentrics, from the main characters to those on the margins. And they maintain a sense of metropolis beyond their protagonists: stick-up men and mendicant vets get their own scenes, indicating that the film's concerns extend past its immediate focus. But that wandering eye also imbues Longlegs with an easygoing air to complement its New York neuroses: like its leading man, the movie is both casual and high-strung, in structure and camerawork. If, by the end, it's confusing what's happening plot-wise, it's only because the Safdies have aligned our POV with their own: with kids grown tired of their father, old enough even as pre-tweens to realize, eventually, that dads can't be children, too&emdash;that gross irresponsibility, whether in child-rearing or civic caretaking, is fun only fleetingly.Opens May 14