Being Flynn (DVD/Blu-Ray) – Dir. Paul Weitz. Starring Paul Dano, Robert De Niro, Julianne Moore.
Intense character piece packed with life and driven by the fire of its lead actors.
Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is an aspiring New York City writer on a downward slope in his life. Working at a homeless shelter as part of a search for “meaning,” he is suddenly put face-to-face with Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), his estranged father and now a guest of the shelter. Nick has to decide whether he wants a relationship with his toxic, manipulative, and generally loathsome father, and whether he can even be near the man without being dragged down to the gutter alongside him.
“Being Flynn” is a boring title for a film with such personality. It’s all the more boring when you learn that a much more expressive name, “Another Bullsh__ Night in Suck City” (taken from the memoir by the real-life Nick Flynn on whom the film was based), was discarded for the generic “Verbing Noun” title form of contemporary pretentious dramas. So it goes.
Jonathan Flynn is the film’s black heart. He’s a megalomaniac, a pathological liar, a racist, a homophobe, and a genius: a marvelously terrible person and an all-around fantastic character. Proclaiming himself one of America’s greatest writers despite all evidence to the contrary, insisting his stay on the streets is just an opportunity to gather material, and refusing to ever let reality get him down, he teeters on the precipice between insanity and insight.
He should be grating, but De Niro makes Jonathan sympathetic and even a little bit likeable without ever compromising the character’s edge. On those few occasions that he shows a fuzzy side, it’s an act or an accidental crack in his hull that reveals, for a moment, a glimpse of empathy or wisdom. For De Niro, who has been content to spend the last decade as a parody of himself, the role is a fantastic return to form.
Meeting him halfway is Paul Dano, who continues to prove himself one of the most capable young actors around today—at least when the role is a sad, boyish, slightly bewildered man who suffers occasional emotional outbursts. Dano has found the right niche.
A tone of entropy and deterioration fills Being Flynn, but it’s also deviously funny—dark, but not oppressive. The story does stagnate a little in its second act, when the relationship between father and son is deadlocked and all there is to witness is the long, slow decline of both characters.
The ending is more hopeful: a little too neat, perhaps, but nothing that defies believability.
A sad, relentless, moving film.
Rated R for the worst man in the world.
4 out of 5