Josh and Benny Safdie’s latest short film, There is Nothing You Can Do, is a kick-in-the-face jolt of cinematic adrenaline that depicts a particularly memorable New York City commute in all its hilarious ugliness. Adopting the tenets of Guerilla Theatre, the Safdies hijacked a New York City bus with several friends to enact their plan. Over the course of several stops, the assembled players got onto the bus as if they were lone riders on their way to wherever (Ariel Schulman, Casey Neistat, Ronald Bronstein, Eleonore Hendricks, Sebastian Bear-Macleod, and, most importantly, Benny and Josh). Hendricks plays a young mother whose baby is crying. Benny is a businessman who is fraying at the edges. When he snaps and berates Eleonore the Young Mother and her child, the other actors—seemingly innocent citizens—rise up to protect them. But Benny the Businessman won’t quit, until Neistat the Everyday Hero takes matters into his own hands. Filming it is Josh the Random Photographer, who just happened to have his tiny camera in hand to videotape the situation as it exploded. How convenient!
There is Nothing You Can Do flawlessly recreates one of those moments that is unfortunately all too common when it comes to New York City commuting. If you haven’t lived (or even visited) here and experienced your own train/bus/cab drama, it might seem unbelievable. But it happens all the time. Watching Josh and Benny’s experiment is a fascinating experience, for it is impossible to tell who is in on the joke and who isn’t. Even for nerds like myself who recognize the players, the performances feel totally real. Not to mention that in the context of this natural location with so many unsuspecting participants, it actually is real.
This is filmmaking of the very moment, in which the Safdies have found yet another way to utilize modern technology to create something that feels exciting and new. If there were no such things as still cameras and camera phones that recorded video, they wouldn’t have been able to pull this stunt off. For an actual video camera would have betrayed their mission. But in the context of this situation, it was perfectly natural for someone to whip out his still camera and record this crazy encounter. Safdie’s off-camera disbelief further distances himself from Benny the Businessman and removes the thought of a set-up from the innocent bus riders’ minds.
While this specific film could generically be described as “narrative Jackass,” it is more than just a stunt. The Safdies aren’t out to maim their victims. They want to jar them out of their daily commuter stupor and give them something to talk about when they get home. More importantly, on a filmmaking level, they are using this concept as a way to produce work that feels as startlingly realistic as possible. Josh Safdie’s main purpose, as a filmmaker, is to capture the small moments of magic and excitement in everyday life and make viewers wake up and recognize similar moments when they happen in their own daily lives. With There is Nothing You Can Do, he and his brother have masterfully fabricated one of these magical, exciting moments.
— Michael Tully
(Watch There is Nothing You Can Do right here.)