Daddy Longlegs

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Synopsis

Mining the emotional sense memories of their own fractured childhoods, Josh and Benny Safdie craft a by turns empathetic and disquieting portrait of parental dysfunction poised between fierce love and terrifying irresponsibility. Manic Manhattan movie theater projectionist Lenny (cowriter and longtime Safdie collaborator Ronald Bronstein) is perhaps the last person who should be raising kids, yet here he is, trying (and failing) to keep it together as his life unravels over the two whirlwind weeks that he has custody of his young boys (real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo), with an impromptu road trip, a sleeping-pill mishap, and a night in jail all part of the chaos. Vérité New York naturalism gives way to flights of surreal lyricism in Daddy Longlegs, a blearily impressionistic anti–fairy tale that finds unexpected humanity in the seemingly most irredeemable of fathers.

Picture 8/10

Josh and Benny Safdie’s first co-directed feature Daddy Longlegs finally receives its own Blu-ray edition and is presented here on a dual-layer disc by The Criterion Collection in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The film is presented with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.

The presentation is from a new 4K restoration, yet interestingly the scan comes from a source a few steps removed from the original materials in what I assume is an attempt to give the film a specific look. The film was shot in Super 16 and edited and completed through a digital workflow before being printed onto 35mm for theatrical screenings. The ideal option may have been to source this presentation directly from the original digital files since going to the 16mm elements would mean having to re-edit the whole film. Instead a 4K scan was taken from the 35mm digital intermediate negative that would have been created from those finished digital files. What this ends up leading to is what is, more-or-less, a digital scan of a blow-up of the digital image, meaning you’re going to get a look that’s grittier than what you would have probably gotten if the Super 16mm elements or even the original digital files (initially scanned directly from those elements) were directly referenced. So again, I must assume they’re trying to recreate how the film would have looked when it screened theatrically.

Getting past all of that and how the film could potentially “look better” than it ends up looking here I felt it still looks lovely for what it is and is leaps and bounds better than any of the previous presentations I’ve seen (the DVD and streaming versions have a standard-def upscale look about them). I like the heavy blown-out grain that’s presented here and it’s rendered wonderfully in this presentation, much cleaner than older ones. Details can vary depending on conditions (like light levels) but most of the film looks relatively sharp, long shots maybe looking a bit smudgier in comparison to close-ups. This is all of course a product of the original photography.

Colours come out looking great with a delightful vibrancy that was also lacking prior to this, at least in the presentation I had seen. As with their recent films Good Time and Uncut Gems the Safdies do love to layer colours like reds, blues, or greens over scenes and there’s a wonderful pop to them here. Black levels are also rich and deep, the encode doing a fantastic job in rendering details in the shadows. The image never comes off looking flat and the range in contrast can be surprisingly wide. Also, despite the many digital steps in-between that led to this presentation, I found the grain still looked mostly natural.

There are a few marks and specs scattered about but I suspect these were picked up in the original scans and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were intentionally left in by the filmmakers. Whether that was the case or not these marks are still few and far between and rarely call attention themselves. Outside of those minor blemishes there isn’t much else outside of the grain just getting really heavy in places.

All in all I thought this looked wonderful and the picture comes off surprisingly bright and bold with a sharp film-look.

Audio 8/10

Criterion includes the film’s stereo soundtrack in lossless PCM 2.0. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and range can be very wide, especially when it comes to the background city noises. Music sounds clean, depending on the quality of the recordings used, and damage and distortion are not issues. For what it is the film sounds great.

Extras 8/10

Surprisingly there isn’t a lot of new content to be found on Criterion’s release for the film, the lone new feature being an interview with film’s child actors and real-life brothers, Sage and Frey Ranaldo, along with their parents Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer, the latter of whom plays their mother in the film. The four, all filmed separately, recount the experience of the film starting with Josh Safdie first running up to Singer and the two children and telling them they’re perfect for this film he and his brother are looking to get made. Interestingly the two children would make their own films at home (some of which are sampled here) so they already had a mind for making movies, though it sounds as though Frey did have trouble at times telling when they were performing or not. Still, the experience sounds to have been a fun one and though they got along great with the Safdies and co-star Ronald Bronstein, the fact they had their actual mother play their mother still helped make things more comfortable. I can’t say there is anything too surprising here but it’s still a fun recollection.

The rest of the material included on this disc has appeared elsewhere but the best of all of this, and possibly the best feature on the disc, is a 55-minute documentary produced in 2017 for The Criterion Channel called The Universe if Out There: Josh and Benny Safdie. Filmed while the two were working on their feature Good Time it not only captures the two working on the film, Benny even editing scenes he appears in on his computer (explaining what he’s doing), it gets very intimate one-on-one discussions between them covering a number of subjects that range from film making to the more personal. Since this was filmed while making Good Time it may have made sense to include the documentary as a feature with that film (if Criterion were to ever release it) but it does end up fitting with Daddy Longlegs due to the fact the two end up talking about their own father and their complicated relationship with him. This even includes how their father's love of movies passed down to them (when trying to prepare them for he and their mother's own divorce he showed his sons Kramer vs. Kramer to prepare them, though the brothers acknowledge how it may have skewed things a bit). Their father, Alberto Safdie, also pops up to talk about his relationship with his sons and he admits to his shortcomings, making it clear the father in Daddy Longlegs is based on him, at least to a degree.

It’s a surprisingly personal documentary with the two filmmakers being especially open, and it’s fun listening to them talk about their childhood, love of movies, and the path they took to make them. Amusingly the documentary ends with them excited by the success of Good Time, meaning they could make their passion project, Uncut Gems, and possibly even more films after that. The documentary is very well made and absolutely worth watching.

Following that is a minute-and-a-half worth of footage featuring Bronstein with his two young co-stars, Sage and Frey Ranaldo, called Supervised Visit, the three of them working on their relationship in the film. 8-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes are also included, totalling over 16-minutes. A lot of the scenes feel to shift the focus to other characters a little too much so I assume that’s why they’ve been cut, though there’s a scene around one boy being punished for hitting his teacher (he finds a way around it) and another where he takes one of the boys to a party. There is also a funny scene simply labeled “The Saddest Sandwich.”

The 2008 “guerilla-theater-style” short by the Safdies, There’s Nothing You Can Do, runs 4-minutes and features Benny Safdie as an aggressive bus passenger annoyed by a crying baby and facing off with the other passengers. Since I recognized most of the passengers (including Bronstein and Eléonore Hendricks, the latter playing the mother) I’m assuming most everyone on the bus were actors. The disc also includes another short program, this one by Daddy Longlegs’ production designer Sam Lisenco and simply entitled Talk Show. The notes suggest this is one episode of a series, filmed in 2010. Lisenco hosts a talk show-like program in what I assume is his office/apartment and his first guest is none other than Ronald Bronstein, there to promote Frownland. Bronstein immediately becomes annoyed by the format and the idea of talking about his film (something he mentions a few times in the supplements for Criterion’s simultaneous release of Frownland) and ends up sitting off to the side as other guests come on. These other guests include the then-director of the National Scrabble Association John D. Williams, Jr., followed by musician Rebecca Schiffman. Bronstein seems completely disengaged to the side but manages to annoy Schiffman to a degree. I assume it’s all parody (it all has a very staged, self-aware feel even if the guests are real) but I could be wrong.

The rest of the material all appears to be more-or-less promotional in nature. There is a 2011 “impressionistic” behind-the-scenes documentary entitled Second Stop from Jupiter narrated by Leah Singer and directed by Becky Luxani. The 12-minute program is set-up a little like it’s from the two young co-stars’ perspectives and features footage around a few key scenes in the film, including the giant mosquito. There’s a 39-second promo video set-up as though it’s breaking news from CNN showing Benny Safdie boarding a plane to Portugal (with the crowd humorously going wild). There is then a 2-minute video simply called Why? (This Movie Exists) featuring Benny Safdie handing out pamphlets around New York for a screening of Daddy Longlegs in order to drum up interest. As he does this he insists he is “not selling anything” and “[doesn’t] do drugs.” The disc then closes with the film’s original trailer.

For the booklet Criterion goes a fun route with it, sort of blending reality and fiction as they did with the booklet for Uncut Gems, which was designed to look like one of the main character’s store catalogues. The “booklet” in this case is made up to look like a typed-up psychological report on the film’s protagonist, Leonard Sokol, held together by a single staple in the top left corner to complete the illusion. Amusingly, the first few pages is a psychological evaluation of the character and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that an actual psychologist did write it. Following that is an essay on the film written by Stéphane Delorme and a reprint of a 2009 interview with the Safdies. Throughout the booklet you’ll also find artwork and production photos and other fun little touches (the interview is made to look like a legal document). It’s an excellent booklet that is also a lot of fun in execution.

It’s still a little disappointing there isn’t more new material but the material included is all quite good and a effortless to work through.

Closing

I still wish that there was more new material on here yet Criterion has managed to put together an exceptional edition for the film, which delivers a sharp new digital presentation alongside some fun and engaging supplements that include an excellent profile on the directors. Highly recommended.

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Year: 2009
Time: 99 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1138
Licensor: Sundance Selects
Release Date: August 16 2022
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.78:1 ratio
English 2.0 PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 New interviews with actors Sage and Frey Ranaldo and their parents, photographer Leah Singer and musician Lee Ranaldo   Documentary from 2017 about the Safdies   Footage of Sage and Frey Ranaldo’s first meeting with actor Ronald Bronstein   Making-of program   There’s Nothing You Can Do (2008), a short film by the Safdies featuring members of the Daddy Longlegs cast and crew   Deleted scenes   Promotional films   Trailer   A 2009 print interview with the Safdies