Benny Safdie

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Lenny Cooke, directed by Josh and Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs), is an astonishing documentary centering around promising basketball star, Lenny Cooke, who in 2001 was the highest ranked high school basketball in the nation, ranked above even Amar’e Stoudemaire, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Through happenstance and perhaps Cooke’s lack of motivation, Cooke was never drafted into the NBA, and now lives in obscurity in Virginia, overweight and struggling to get by financially. The impetus of Lenny Cooke came with the film’s producer, Adam Shopkorn, who was followed the headlines about Cooke in 2001 and convinced the rising star to be the focus of his documentary. When Cooke didn’t make it to the NBA, the project was temporarily shelved, but then Shopkorn approached the Safdies to help finish the film. The Safdies and Shopkorn then went to Virginia to film Cooke in the present time, and they bridged the older footage with the new to create a meditation on Cooke’s life trajectory. Per my review, I loved the film and was excited to sit down with the Safdies and Shopkorn to discuss bridging Shopkorn’s footage to the Safdies’ new footage, and the Safdies’ transition from narrative to documentary. They also go into great detail over one of the film’s standout scenes: Cooke celebrating his 30th birthday party at home in Virginia, during which time he drunkenly and tenderly serenades his fiancée with a Mario song. That scene is devastatingly powerful, for you almost forget that a camera is even present. It’s […]

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Imagine living every day of your life knowing that you are more famous for not amounting to anything than you are for your actual success. In Josh and Benny Safdie’s documentary, Lenny Cooke, the eponymous subject struggles with that exact reality. The film chronicles Cooke’s life from 2001, when he was ranked as the number one high school basketball player in the nation – higher than than LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony –  to the present, as he lives in relative obscurity in Virginia, overweight and struggling to earn a living. The question the film sets out to answer is what went wrong. The Safdies, making their documentary debut here, weave together a gut-wrenching tale of missed opportunities, sheer chance and reconciliation with the past. Very luckily supplied with hours of footage capturing Cooke in the most pertinent moments of his saga, the Safdies bridge the past to the present with excellent vérité-style cinematography and their keen ability to craft a well-drawn out, perfectly-paced film.

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Lenny Cooke, the documentary debut from Josh and Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs) follows its eponymous subject from his position as highest ranked high school basketball player in the nation to his fall from grace and into relative obscurity. In this unflinching documentary, skillfully compiled of hours of footage of Cooke in his basketball playing heyday to current footage of his quiet life in Virginia, the Safdies weave together an incredibly moving story that is wholly true but features nearly operatic peaks and valleys. Cooke was once ranked higher than Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, and this film shows how chance and motivation brought his dreams crumbling down, and how he wants others to learn from his experience. My full review will be posted after the film makes its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival later this week, but I’ll just tease that it’s definitely something to seek out. And know absolutely nothing about basketball (or any sport, for that matter), so that says quite a lot.

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Robert Levin explains why ‘Daddy Longlegs,’ now in limited release and available on demand, is a terrific movie, no matter what Neil Miller says.

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Sometimes the Sundance programming crew hits it out of the park, and sometimes they swing and miss. This story of the world’s most deplorable dad and his listless day-to-day is one of those misses.

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published: 04.16.2014
C-
published: 04.16.2014
B-
published: 04.14.2014
B
published: 04.14.2014
A-

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