Review: Being Flynn
PLOT: Nick Flynn wants to be a writer yet he can’t seem to get a firm grip on his life. Things get worse for the young man when he is reacquainted with the father who abandoned him years ago. It is especially tough since it is at the homeless shelter Nick works in where his long lost dad arrives looking for a place to sleep. The reunion sets his personal life back a few steps. He soon finds comfort in recklessness, drugs and alcohol. Will he follow in his father’s footsteps or will he learn to make his own path? And will father and son ever find a common bond and finally make up for some lost time?
BEING FLYNN is a fantastic film simple as that. Based on the captivating memoirs of author Nick Flynn, “Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City,” there is much to love in the film adaptation. This is a near perfect portrait of a father and the son he abandoned. Yet it is also a challenging take on humanity and how far we can get lost in this big, ugly world. As heartbreaking and challenging as BEING FLYNN is – the book’s title would have been more appropriate for the film – there is also a light that finds hope for the hopeless. For some, falling into a downward spiral may be their only chance for true salvation.
Paul Dano is Nick Flynn. He is a young man who is not wholly trustworthy and has an unclear view of his future. He is a writer who can’t seem to focus on his words as he is seemingly distracted by day to day living. When his long lost father Jonathan (Robert De Niro) shows up at his new apartment, he has a brief glimpse of the man who abandoned him. While it most assuredly holds an impact, it is not the last time he would come across dear old dad. At the suggestion of a new girl named Denise (Olivia Thrilby) that he is currently seeing, Nick begins working at a homeless shelter. Soon after starting his job, his dad shows up looking for a place to stay.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz, the filmmaker expands on the heartfelt emotion that he conjured in his 2002 feature ABOUT A BOY. Yet in FLYNN, he has the challenging task of getting you to feel something for these flawed characters. Both Nick and Jonathan have moments that will test the audiences’ empathy, especially with the father. The man is racist, homophobic, and he seems to resent almost every little thing in the world that surrounds him. Yet thanks to Weitz beautiful script, he gives Mr. De Niro a chance to not simply play the stereotype of a wounded poet. It certainly helps that Jonathan Flynn seems to have a few of the same quirks that Travis Bickle had in TAXI DRIVER back in 1976, both are fascinating characters although Jonathan is a tad less volatile than his predecessor.
Thankfully Dano and De Niro are phenomenal together. This is certainly a career best for each of these fine actors, which is especially impressive considering De Niro’s resume. If you couldn’t believe that these two have that father and son bond – no matter how dysfunctional it may be – BEING FLYNN wouldn’t work. They both make it very believable. Add to that the talented Julianne Moore who plays wife and mother to Jonathan and Nick in flashbacks. Her story will be very relatable to a number of people struggling to make ends meet. She is absolutely wonderful as the loving mother who does all she can for her son. This is a powerful family dynamic that at its heart and soul feels very sincere.
BEING FLYNN is a deeply moving feature rich in its emotion as well as its skillfully poetic screenplay. It is difficult to come out of it without feeling some sense of how precious life is and how one must take advantage of it. It would have been easy to go for the sentimentality of it all and make Nick a victim of his family drama, or even try and paint a nicer picture of his father. Instead, Weitz follows the real Nick Flynn’s outline by painting a truthful look at starting over and the ability to forgive and forget. It is a funny story. It is a tragic story. But most of all it is a human story, warts and all.