27 May 2010
With their first two features, filmmakers/brothers Josh and Benny Safdie already demonstrate a knack for designating reasonably unsympathetic characters as their protagonists: THE PLEASURE OF BEING ROBBED followed an unrepentant kleptomaniac, while DADDY LONGLEGS offers up Lenny (Ronald Bronstein), a divorced father of two who will probably never merit a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug.
Not that Lenny is an inherently bad guy. He obviously loves his two young sons and craves the limited periods of time he can spend with them (he and their mother have joint custody, although the kids seem to primarily live with her). Unfortunately, Lenny often acts like a child himself—he comes off like a zanier, less erudite version of Jason Robards’ character from A THOUSAND CLOWNS, seeking all of the simple pleasures he can obtain out of life without any of the responsibilities. So, while he does take the kids to the museum and the park, his poor judgment repeatedly threatens to overshadow his goodwill. Running late to pick up the kids at school is one thing, but taking them on a road trip with a hook-up he met in a bar (with her beau driving the car!) is on a whole other plane of inappropriateness.
Stitched together like a series of funny/sad vignettes, the film feels loose and casual—almost excessively so (ROBBED was a half-hour shorter and benefited from such brevity.) We see Lenny with his sometimes girlfriend, the improbably-named Leni (Eleonore Henricks, the klepto in ROBBED) and various other friends and neighbors; they all view him as an irascible soul that they’re willing to tolerate (up to a point). It’s the lanky, charismatic Bronstein (think a less-cartoony indie-film version of Cosmo Kramer) who lends Lenny a lot of his charm, but the Safdies should get some credit as well. They aren’t necessarily out to portray a monster or a saint, but a flawed, well-meaning individual who just doesn’t take the time to consider how his actions are going to play out.
That personality flaw comes to a head in the last ten minutes when Lenny’s rational thought processes deplete at an alarming speed. At this point, one fears the Safdies are this close from letting the film get away from them. Instead, they go out on an absurd but melancholy, almost lyrical note. A sense of defeat overcomes everything, as we fear for Lenny, knowing he probably won’t change or grow. But I also smiled at the wonderfully bonkers image the film goes out on. Like so much of DADDY LONGLEGS, you can’t possibly imagine where it will head next. Sometimes, that by-the-seat-of-the-pants quality can frustrate, but it’s also incredibly refreshing.
11 May 2010
It’s rare for one film to fully track how an artistic movement evolves from inception to irrelevance, but that’s just what this ingenuously constructed, gleefully entertaining documentary does for graffiti-inspired guerrilla street art—as it’s all happening, no less.
We begin with secretive British artist Banksy, whose elaborate, provocative pranks (such as playfully defacing a portion of the Gaza Strip wall) elevate street art into something that attracts critical acclaim, mass media coverage and eventually, considerable moolah from collectors. Hiding his face in shadow and electronically altering his voice, he keeps his anonymity while addressing the camera. He relays the story of Thierry Guetta, a transplanted Frenchman who ostensibly runs an Los Angeles clothing boutique but seems to spend all of his time (circa the late ‘90s) filming everything and everyone he sees with a portable video camera.
Inspired by a relative who is himself an aspiring street artist, Guetta begins to track down all the L.A. street artists he can find (including a young Shepard Fairey long before his iconic Obama “Hope” print made him a household name). Under the pretense that he’s making a documentary, Guetta videotapes them as they create and (illegally) display their work on public and private property. In turn, he becomes their accomplice, soaking up valuable lessons. Before long, he befriends Banksy, who tentatively allows him to keep a record of his work. Guetta, however, never had any intentions of actually making a documentary. Feeling mounting pressure to do so from all the artists he’s followed (manipulated?), he proves to be a fabulously inept filmmaker. Banksy suggests that Guetta put the documentary aside and instead create some street art of his own—perhaps even put on a show. Meanwhile, Banksy decides to have a go at making his own documentary using Guetta's voluminous tapes of unmarked footage, and the finished product is the film you’ve been watching.
It doesn’t end there. In an astonishing final act, Guetta unexpectedly turns the whole movement on its head in what’s either a cunning display of his idiot-savant nature or just miraculously dumb luck. As for growing speculation that the film is just another Banksy hoax, well, Guetta is undeniably a character (with his stout stature and massive sideburns and ‘stache, he rather resembles one of the lesser-known Mario Bros.), but he seems so genuinely off that I don’t believe for a moment that he could be made up—even by someone as mischievously creative as Banksy, who proves himself a seriously adept filmmaker. Captivating from front to back, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP both revels in street art’s illicit thrills and astutely, hilariously critiques the commoditized monster it becomes.