Movie reviews: The Criterion Collection’s ‘Frownland’ and ‘Daddy Long Legs’ unite Ronald Bronstein and the Safdie brothers

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It’s safe to describe Ronald Bronstein as the Safdie brothers’ secret weapon.

As editor and co-writer of Ben and Josh Safdie films such as Good time and Uncut Gems, Bronstein showed an eye for detail and realism that perfectly complemented the Safdies’ gritty directing style. The three practically feel made for each other, sharing a fascination with New York’s grungy and toxic subculture along with their uncompromising vulnerability. They take us to a New York that feels real and alive, but seen through the lens of deeply flawed and compelling characters. The Criterion Collection recently released two films that encapsulate Bronstein’s relationship with the Safdies: Frownland (2008) and daddy long legs (2010), both of which are must-haves for fans.

Frownland: the only feature film by Ronald Bronstein, Frownland, is a stimulating and powerful session, unlike any film I have ever seen. Following Keith (Dore Mann), a salesman with severe social anxiety, Frownland looks like a strange home movie found at the bottom of a box of VHS tapes sold at a garage sale. It’s more of a character piece, following Keith as he goes through his day at work while trying to interact with other people. The film feels almost voyeuristic in its vulnerability; I have rarely seen social anxiety described with such precision and brutality. Every conversation that triggers Keith feels genuine, and I respect Bronstein for his straightforward approach to portraying social anxiety. The film’s comedy is dark, especially as Keith tries and fails to salvage some normalcy with the way he talks to people. Over time, the movie feels like a grimy black hole that Keith can’t escape, running through a kaleidoscope of emotions that range from funny, depressing, and horrifying all at once. Not since Maniacal (1980) have I been both disturbed and bewitched by a film. Frownland is a shameless cringe ride of infuriating terror that I highly recommend to anyone looking for something unique, even if watching the movie made me want to take a shower afterwards.

daddy long legs: The first feature film of the Safdie Brothers, this time we see Ronald Bronstein in the role of main actor, as well as editor and co-writer. He plays Lenny, a divorced father trying to care for his two small children for the two weeks out of the year he sees them. The film is semi-autobiographical, based largely on the Safdie brothers’ experiences with their divorced father. Even from the start, you can see the marriage of Bronstein’s editing and Safdies’ direction at work through the film’s miraculous pacing. The film bobs and bobs, reflecting the busy streets of New York City and Lenny’s chaotic, easily distracted state of mind. Ronald Bronstein perfectly portrays Lenny’s caring but irresponsible nature. Lenny loves his children, but his irresponsibility keeps him from being called a “good parent”. His mistakes are true to his character, as they aren’t as over the top or brutal as most bad dads in TV and movies, but are all based on his immaturity. His poor judgment and lack of responsibility cause his children to get hurt or end up in dangerous situations; all the while, Lenny cares more about being blamed. The film makes you realize that Lenny wants to be present in his children’s lives while showing the dark consequences of his flaws. daddy long legs is a must for anyone wishing to delve deeper into the work of Safdies.

The Criterion Edition also includes their crazy short film, There’s nothing you can really do.

Both Frownland and daddy long legs are now available on DVD and Blu Ray via the Criterion Collection. You can find more information at Frownland here and daddy long legs here

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