Josh Safdie’s 2008 movie, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, was originally commissioned by businessman Andy Spade to be a short film surreptitiously promoting his and his late wife Kate Spade’s handbag line. Josh instead reworked the short into his first feature film, an 80-minute production that follows a young woman named Eleanore as she wanders Manhattan stealing, among other things, a purse.
It was after wrapping The Pleasure of Being Robbed that Josh began thinking about his next feature, this time working with his brother, Benny. The film was to be set in Midtown Manhattan’s diamond district, inspired by the runners who deliver jewelry and gold throughout the area. So while this unnamed project had all the elements of what could now be described as the Safdie style—gritty, street-level, day-in-the-life portraits of struggling New Yorkers—it would have to wait another decade before getting made.
Josh and Benny, 34 and 32 respectively, grew up in New York City. Benny has said in interviews that he originally wanted to be a physicist but, eventually, ended up joining his brother at Boston University’s College of Communications.
Since making The Pleasure of Being Robbed, Josh has released four feature-length films with Benny, including the 2013 cult documentary Lenny Cooke, about a former top high-school basketball talent—and peer of LeBron James—whose career is sidelined by ego, adolescence, and the bad advice of low-level industry operatives. “We made Lenny Cooke, and after, we were like, Let’s try to make that movie again.” Benny says, referencing the diamond-district film that was never produced. “While we were doing research, Josh met Arielle Holmes, who was working in the district. She was in this beautiful dress and looked like a kind of…Russian immigrant,” he says. Then when she spoke, “you hear this thick New Jersey accent. It was so shocking, and the more Josh met with her the more we realized that her story was completely different.”
Rather than acting as a Russian jewelry runner, Holmes made her on-screen debut as the protagonist of an entirely different Safdie film, and the diamond-district idea was, once again, put on the back burner. Heaven Knows What is a semi-biographical account following a young, drug-addicted woman in New York City. During the process of promoting Heaven Knows What, the actor Robert Pattinson, having only seen a still frame from the movie, reached out to Josh and Benny to collaborate, telling them, “I’m game for anything.” “Anything” was not the pair’s diamond flick, but instead turned into the 2017 crime film Good Time, which was nominated that year for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Somehow, by spending the previous ten years procrastinating on their original plan, the brothers have built an enviable portfolio—something Benny attributes to not wanting to sit idle—allowing the Safdies to grow their storytelling style and improve their filmmaking and editing skills. Only now is filming set to begin on their albatross of a project, Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler. And when I tell Benny I can’t wait to see it, he simply replies, “Yeah, me, too!”