Directed by: Paul Weitz.
Written by: Paul Weitz based on the book by Nick Flynn.
Starring: Robert De Niro (Jonathan Flynn), Paul Dano (Nick Flynn), Julianne Moore (Jody Flynn), Olivia Thirlby (Denise), Eddie Rouse (Carlos), Steve Cirbus (Jeff), Lili Taylor (Joy), Victor Rasuk (Gabriel), Liam Broggy (Young Nick), Chris Chalk (Ivan), Wes Studi (Captain), Dale Dickey (Marie), William Sadler (Ray).
When Being Flynn begins, I thought I knew precisely where it was going. It is a film about a depressed, would-be younger writer, Nick (Paul Dano), whose mother (Julianne Moore, seen in flashback) has killed herself, and who hasn’t heard from father, Jonathan (Robert DeNiro) who views himself as the only great American writer other than Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger, in 18 years. But then Jonathan calls Nick one day out of the blue – and acts like no time has passed. He has been evicted from his apartment and needs some help moving his stuff into storage. Out of curiosity, Nick helps – and then he doesn’t hear from his father again for a little while. Needing money, Nick takes a job at a homeless shelter – and low and behold, Jonathan shows up at the shelter as a client. You probably already have an idea about what is going to happen in the film – that father and son will heal their relationship, and will eventually tearfully confess their love for each other and their mistakes – and eventually save each other. Yet, Being Flynn is based on a real story, and life doesn’t quite turn out like it does in the movies.
The reason to see the movie is the performances by Paul Dano and Robert DeNiro, both of whom are quite good in their roles. Dano has a difficult role that requires him to hit many notes – too many if the truth be told. He starts the movie as a lost young man, trying to figure out what he should be doing. With his mother now gone, and his father never a part of his life, he lacks guidance and quite simply doesn’t know what to do. He moves into a new place, and meets a girl Denise (Olivia Thirlby) who works at a homeless shelter, and suggests he work there too. He does, because he has nothing else to do, but while he likes helping people, he still cannot help himself. He spirals down in drug and alcohol addiction – all fueled by his increasing complex relationship with his father, Jonathan. Dano is asked to do a lot in the movie – essentially spiral out of control, and then find himself and get himself out of it, and because he is asked to do so much, the film at times feel rushed. His downward spiral seems to happen too quickly – and his recovery almost immediate. But Dano convinces us of his character as much as possible.
As the father, Jonathan, DeNiro has a showcase role – and an easier one – than Dano does. He essentially starts the movie at least slightly crazy – ranting and raving either behind the wheel of his taxi, or in his low rent apartment he gets thrown out of. When he loses his job, and his apartment, his spiral is deeper and more immediate than Dano’s – becoming a major problem at the shelter because of his violent behavior. DeNiro, who too often has coasted on his talent in the past 15 years or so, seems to really get into his role here. It’s one of his best performances in recent years, and although he goes a little too far over the top at times, he mainly sticks to the character here – and delivers a very good performance as a mentally ill man.
The movie itself, however, isn’t as good as Dano and DeNiro are in it. The film feels rushed in many ways – that the movie tries to cram in too much into its rather scant 100 minute running time. As mentioned before, Dano has to go through so much in such a short period of time that it doesn’t seem quite believable. And it also should be noted that while the film, written and directed by Paul Weitz, doesn’t end up quite how we expect it too – it isn’t a redemption story where eventually father and son will have a tearful hug and become best friends. And yet, the film does seem to be a little too lightweight. The movie is based on the memoir by Nick Flynn (the Dano character), with the inventive title of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, was said to be darker and more harrowing. The movie doesn’t get as dark as it should. The issues it addresses – homeless, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, suicide – deserve a harder hitting movie, and too often Being Flynn pulls it punches.
It’s not Being Flynn is a bad movie – it isn’t. It’s just that the movie isn’t quite what it could have been. The subject matter was there, as were the performances. It just needed the treatment it deserves, and Being Flynn is not that movie.