Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Daddy Longlegs /aka/ Go Get Some Rosemary. (2009, Ben & Joshua Safdie)

Rating: ***1/2

As if taking cue from its erratic and impulsive main character named Lenny (Ronald Bronstein), Go Get Some Rosemary. (2009) is stylistically restless, distributing plot information in uneven chunks. It isn’t until half-hour into the movie, for example, that we learn what Lenny’s job is (he’s a projectionist in a repertory theatre). What we witness in detail are his dynamic – and sometimes violent – interactions with his ex-wife, his girlfriend, his kids and their teachers.

The movie is a heartfelt and frank love-hate-poem to bad parenting; an anti-White Ribbon (2009) of sorts. Lenny’s way of cutting the kids huge slack is joined by his total recklessness, culminating in sedating his offspring into near-coma when he can’t find anyone to keep an eye on them. And yet his fatherly love is so evident that we don’t question it even when he shows violent impulses (both towards the kids and towards other adults with kids present). Lenny doesn’t shelter his boys from the aggression: by exposing them to it, he hopes to condition them to deal with it themselves (when the boys’ teacher scolds one for pulling the other’s hair, Lenny orders the victim to pull the culprit’s hair, too – an experiential approach).

Lenny, who screens black and white screwball comedies at work, is like a classic female from one of them himself: mercurial, whimsical, impulsive, fun to be around – and a peril. The movie is a crazy and engrossing dream of what it would be like if Susan from Bringing Up Baby (1938) actually were bringing one up. The way things work in Go Get Some Rosemary. (mere title being a parental imperative in itself, complete with a reinforcing dot at the end), the parenting is all about redefining authority. Not really challenging it (see the scene in which a class solves a math problem on the teacher’s back), but making it seem real and connected to the kid’s level of perception.

The style of the movie is much-indebted in Cassavetes’ work, as is indeed the main character: a male and scruffy Gena Rowlands. The raw, aggressive, inquisitive camerawork, fast cutting and improvisatory feel come together beautifully and end up creating a benign variation on yet another bad-parenting masterpiece, namely the Dardennes’ The Child (2006) – with a great nod to the Cronenberg universe along the way, but I’ll be damned if I spoil that one for you.

[Note: The movie will be screened as part of the upcoming Off Plus Camera Independent Film Festival in Kraków; more information here]

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