For about an hour, Josh and Benny Safdie’s trendy indie about a deadbeat dad taking care of his two boys for two weeks in Manhattan seems like the kind of movie in which you hate everybody — especially the directors. Father Lenny (Ronald Bronstein, a filmmaker whose Frownland is equally abrasive but more affecting) is boorish, irresponsible, and maybe sociopathic; kids Sage and Frey (Sage and Frey Ranaldo) are spoiled and sadistic; the ex-wife is nagging and joyless; the girlfriend is weird and co-dependent.
What’s more, the Safdies — both BU alumns — shoot their film with a wobbly, hand-held camera and jiggly jump cuts that are supposed to make it seem real — or at least like a John Cassavetes movie. Except for Abel Ferrara as a truly frightening mugger, nothing engages until the very end, when Lenny gets so hilariously desperate, so absurdly tragic, that it’s heartbreaking.
Too bad that, in order to appreciate his suffering, we have to suffer as well.