Review of Being Flynn


Movie Review: "Being Flynn" --

Rating: R (sexual content, language, brief nudity, drug use)
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: April 19, 2012
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Many films have tried to take unlikeable characters and put them in situations where the audience is meant to root for them. "Being Flynn" has no such pretensions. It takes unlikeable characters and puts them in depressing situations that are almost haunting in their honesty. Instead of trying to make them likable, director Paul Weitz instead challenges the audience to find their humanity underneath the weight that is bogging them down.

This film was adapted by Weitz for the screen from writer Nick Flynn's memoir. Here, Nick is portrayed by a gaunt Paul Dano as a man searching for some kind of meaning in his aimless life. He meets Denise (Olivia Thirlby), with whom he has an on-again-off-again relationship. Despite the chaos of the relationship, she manages to get him to work at a homeless shelter. In working with the homeless, Nick finally finds something worth doing in life. The audience is meant to think that he is on the right track. Unfortunately for Nick, this will not last.

Meanwhile, Nick's estranged father Jonathan (Robert DeNiro) is a taxi driver who is also a narcissist with delusions of grandeur. He fancies himself a writer on par with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. The problem is, he is not a writer, and his delusions bring his family down. Not only does Nick want nothing to do with his "bum" of a father, but his wife Jody (Julianne Moore) is also looking for a way out.

Unfortunately, her way out is suicide, which leaves Nick reeling. He felt like she was the only one of his two parents who cared about him at all. He barely knows his father and has no relationship or contact with him. As a result, he has some serious identity issues that he doesn't know how to deal with.

Meanwhile, Jonathan reaches rock bottom and loses his job. He is also evicted from his apartment. He needs a place to stay, so he goes to a homeless shelter. As it turns out, he ends up at the exact same shelter that Nick is working at.

Nick's world is turned upside down when he finds his father at the shelter. His anger and bitterness at his father have not dissipated at all, which makes the job he once loved a chore to go to everyday. To cope with his sorrow and anger over his mom, he turns to drugs and alcohol.

The film is narrated by voiceovers from both Nick and Jonathan. The two narrations mix like oil and water, which is meant to show just how far apart these two are despite their blood relation. It is clear that Nick's narration is from the book he was writing as this is happening. Jonathan's narration may be from the book he claimed to have written but never did.

Where the plot ultimately ends may surprise the audience. Writer/director Weitz is not interested in the usual redemption story that accompanies most films about lousy fathers. Jonathan has few redeeming qualities, if he has any at all. He doesn't seem to be interested in patching things up with his son. As his dependence on alcohol grows, his connection to reality begins to wane.

This may all seem very dour, and it is. There is very little comic relief from the high drama of "Being Flynn." The big takeaway here is the performance of DeNiro. After nearly a decade toiling in comedies that were mostly beneath him, he returns here to the dramatic fold. Fans of DeNiro will applaud his decision to go back to the genre that made him a household name and legend. He turns in a nuanced performance that young actors can learn from.

Dano is also excellent as Nick. He uses a combination of vocal tone and physical mannerisms to portray a man who truly doesn't know who he is or where he came from. Nick is a lost soul who reaches rock bottom because of his unresolved feelings for the father he never wanted to become.

Those who like their movie endings wrapped up in a happy, tidy bow will not like the ambiguity of "Being Flynn." There are no easy answers in most things in life, and this movie stays true to that reality. There may be no bows or happy endings, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light begins and ends with DeNiro's triumphant return to dramatic form.