Sunday, March 11, 2012

Being Flynn

The Father And The Unmistakable, Inseparable Son

Robert De Niro as Jonathan Flynn and Paul Dano as Nick Flynn in "Being Flynn", directed by Paul Weitz. 
Focus Features


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Sunday, March 11
, 2012

Paul Weitz directs "Being Flynn", a drama based on Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, and he gets the grit, humor and anger of Mr. Flynn's book accurate for the most part, even if the story occasionally meanders.  "Being Flynn" expanded its release to additional U.S. cities this weekend. 

Robert De Niro gives his best performance since "Cape Fear" (1991) as Jonathan Flynn, con-man, alcoholic and aged Travis Bickle cabdriver who claims to be a fine writer and author of poetry.  Jonathan is the film's unreliable narrator whose story is met head on by that of his estranged son Nick (Paul Dano), who works in a homeless shelter to make ends meet while figuring out what on earth he wants to do next in his life.  Jonathan is brittle, abrasive, bigoted and delusional.  He claims his suite at the "Ritz Hotel" is waiting for him as a backup option even as he looks to long-lost friends for a place to crash for the night.  Similarly, Nick is dishonest, vulnerable, lonely and talented at writing.  He misses his late mother Jody (Julianne Moore) who raised him on her own. 

The film's sardonic tone slips into despair at times, in tragicomedy marked by Mr. Dano's anguished, volatile performance as Nick, a young man growing into the world around him but finding he can't shake the shadow his father casts, even if that father is one who has barely been there for him.  One of the treats of "Being Flynn" is the way the irascible father and his edgy, unpredictable son uneasily coexist.  There's tension and love exemplified in the messy confrontations and blunt exchanges between Jonathan and Nick.  Mr. De Niro uses theatrics but they aren't wasted on Jonathan; his boisterous showcase is Jonathan's cry for help as much it is a harsh indictment of his son.  It's an affecting, spiky portrait, one confidently and unselfconsciously built.  Since Jonathan is a con-man Mr. De Niro has the latitude to give him an amplified stage in the theater of his own mind. 

Almost as impressive as Mr. De Niro's display are the supporting performances by the players employed in the homeless shelter Nick works in.  Leaders of their domain, they all try to make their way in the world, and "Being Flynn" is about making one's way while examining the foundations that define one's path, however shaky those foundations may be.  The film's involving and rugged rhythm occasionally gets bogged down at the expense of narrative fluidity.  Some of the scenes involving Ms. Moore have a bleak and sunny quality that aren't quite sentimental.  Lili Taylor is good in a small role as a reformed drug-addict who has a leadership position at the shelter, as is Olivia Thirlby, though not strongly written as Denise, Nick's on-again, off-again sex partner, who helps Nick move forward. 

Mr. Weitz, who also adapts Nick Flynn's 2004 memoir, mixes social commentary with the stark realities facing societal outcasts defiantly making their mark even if at great cost to their own sense of esteem or security.  They've dropped off the comfort radar long ago, and Nick tries finding a semblance of comfort and security in his own troubled life.  It will be a long road for Nick, and the raw, turbulent push and pull with his dad is at the heart of a film that sprawls and palpitates with humanity, malady and human foibles making its characters spontaneous, earthy, authentic and appealing.

"Being Flynn" finds equal measure in its fantasists and realists, neither appraising nor exalting them, only illustrating that life comes to both in brutal, tragic and unexpected ways.  This insightful, funny and often charming film doesn't offer an easy fairy-tale conclusion as much as it give us glimpses of how life has affected and bonded two people who are more disagreeable yet similar than they could have ever imagined.

With: Eddie Rouse, Wes Studi, Victor Rasuk, Chris Chalk, Thomas Middleditch, Steve Cirbus, Liam Broggy.

"Being Flynn" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language throughout, some sexual content, drug use, and brief nudity.  The film's running time is one hour and 42 minutes.

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