My sincere hope, dear reader, is that you’ve been reading my Sundance coverage for years. That’s a tall order, seeing as readership comes and goes and (in my mind) almost no one reads my Sundance bloggings anyway. But hopefully you’ve been here a while. If so, you’ve seen me say this before: at Sundance, there are a lot of hits and a lot of misses. This is one of those misses.
Daddy Longlegs follows Lenny (Ronald Bronstein), a deadbeat dad who has just picked up his kids for his requisite 2-weeks per year. Described as a fairy tale and playing out more like a meandering mess of unfortunate (and mostly unbelievable) events, we watch as Lenny shows himself to be a lovable buddy parent type, the kind that usually gets in trouble. But the trouble comes when his parenting techniques begin to take a few dangerous turns — trips up state with random girls he met in a bar, the use of narcotics in a way that isn’t written on the bottle, etc. Lenny’s a terrible person. A moron. And at no point to we root for him, despite his role as down-on-his-luck protagonist in this excruciatingly uninventive “fairy tale.”
The film’s attempt at a fluid style is marred by the intercutting of scattered moments in the lives of Lenny and his brood. Co-writer directors Benny and Josh Safdie show their ability to write charming character moments, but at the same time find trouble stringing these moments together to form a coherent narrative. This story lacks… well, story. It’s main character wanders through two weeks of his life, and even though he’s in a position to have consequences smack him square in the face, he never fails to weasel his way through to the next uninteresting situation. There is a scene that involves a giant mosquito. By the time you get to that though, you’re already lost.
There’s a technical problem or two, as well. First is the scorelessness of the film, which never gains any energy. A score of some kind may have brought up the tempo, so audience members wouldn’t be fighting back the Zzzs. As with so many lower budget films highlighted by Sundance, the film has a rough look to it — a decidedly “indie” or “low fi” affair. But there’s something else at work. Scratching and grainy elements that lead one to believe that it was shot on 16mm. If that’s the case, it looks okay for 16mm. If that’s the case, I have no idea why anyone would shoot on 16mm. Shoot it on you’re mother’s VHS camcorder next time. And this time, get someone who has something interesting to say — visually — to direct it.
In the end, Daddy Longlegs is a soulless affair. It feels hastily executed and disengages its audience several times during its 98 minute runtime. It introduces characters at random, then makes them integral to small scenes, then discards them inexplicably. If there’s any one thing that sticks out, it is a recurring metaphor of characters dumping things out (which is highlighted by tight, intimate shots as things like cereal are dumped onto a table). Sadly, this only heightened my desire to dump this movie into the pit of no return, assuring that I would never have to see it again.
Side Note: Daddy Longlegs is also part of the Sundance Selects program, and will be available on VOD starting today. Check with your cable provider to see if you receive Sundance Channel On-Demand.