After seeing Uncut Gems (2019) earlier this year, I knew I’d have to start exploring the previous works of Josh and Benny Safdie, the two brothers who wrote and directed the film.
So I started my foray into their catalog with Daddy Longlegs (2009), a comedy-drama about an irresponsible but loving father.
Coming from Uncut Gems, Daddy Longlegs is a major shift in tone. Both films take place in New York City, but Uncut Gems is a cinematic anxiety rollercoaster propelled by the repercussions of criminality and greed. Meanwhile, Daddy Longlegs is a candid film about a father who means well but doesn’t always do well. Nonetheless, the films share similar themes.
Like Howard in Uncut Gems (Adam Sandler), Lenny in Daddy Longlegs (Ronald Bronstein) seems to love his kids — but it’s a strange kind of love. At the risk of sounding like a guidance counselor, his unorthodox lifestyle and impulsivity frequently complicate his role as a part-time parent. Throughout the film, he arranges road trips for him and his kids with strangers, mocks the boys’ school principal in front of them, and even sends the two young boys into the city streets to get groceries on his behalf.
Daddy Longlegs is meandering and unstructured in a way that real-life often is. But the big climactic moment of the film, if there is one, happens when Lenny decides to drug his two young boys with sleeping pills to manage his erratic work schedule. Assuming that the boys will sleep through the night but awake the next day, Lenny rises to find his kids still unresponsive. An emergency diagnosis from a family doctor reveals that Lenny’s pharmacological parenting method will have both boys knocked out for another two days at a minimum.
The realization that you’ve drugged your kids into oblivion would be terrifying for most parents. And their later anxiety-driven films, the Safdies’ would’ve probably capitalized on the moment by milking every last drop of tension. But in Daddy Longlegs, the scene isn’t melodramatic.
The family doctor, between examining the two boys, occasionally stares up at Lenny with a mixture of disbelief and disapproval. Lenny’s girlfriend looks concerned, but not panicked. Sensing that the room is demanding an explanation from him, Lenny rubs his eyes and attributes the blunder to his hectic work schedule. But the moment isn’t emphasized by tense currents of pounding synth music like in Good Time or Uncut Gems, nor does it need to be.
Despite their stylistic differences, I couldn’t help but notice that Good Time (2017), Uncut Gems, and Daddy Longlegs all seem to share a common theme of “strange love.” In Good Time, Connie (Robert Pattinson) is a sociopathic master-manipulator who, despite involving his mentally-challenged brother in his crime sprees, risks his life to protect him at all costs. In Uncut Gems, Howard’s (Adam Sandler) obsessive gambling addiction overshadows his role as a responsible father, but he seems aware of his absentee status and (unsuccessfully) attempts to reconcile with his children. Similarly, as I explored earlier, Daddy Longlegs’s Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) is portrayed as a caring father, but one with a weak grasp on diligence.
The Safdies’ fixation with strange love extends to their other characters, too. In Uncut Gems, Howard and Julia’s share an illicit, tempestuous love but the Safdies’ never condemn their relationship. In fact, both brothers have stated that the film is about finding beauty in unexpected places:
It is ultimately a love story between Howard and Julia, and that’s what that [the end credits song, L’amour Toujours is] kind of [about]. It’s about standing by somebody regardless of their behavior, and that’s really the movie. That’s why it’s called Uncut Gems, you have this rough exterior that people deem invalid, and when you dig down underneath it, there’s actually a lot of beauty there.
Anyway, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed delving into the Safdie catalog. I also can’t wait to see what they do next.
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