Being Flynn Reviews
From there the film shifts its focus back and forth between Nick and his dad, both trying to live their lives.
It all sounds like this could have been a rather sentimental film, and, while there is a tad bit of that in there, it's mostly unglamorous, not very sentimental, and rather bittersweet and melancholy. and make something of themselves, and both struggling to deal with the past and their current realities and fractured relationship with one another.
It's also rather disjointed and unsure of itself at times. I applaud writer/director Paul Weitz for trying his hand at some mildly challenging material, but it feels like he never finds steady ground or confidence with this material all that often. He does have some major cojones for having his film start out with De Niro driving a taxi into the mean streets of NYC, though. As interesting as the character of Jonathan Flynn is, the movie is supposed ot be Nick's story, with Jonathan as a major supporter. When the film is solely focused on Nick, it's great, but when Jonathan becomes the main focus, the film isn't as good, and feels all over the place.
However, this is still a really good story, and it's a fascinating look into the world of homelessness. Some of the best material has to be when Nick explains the day to day operations of things at the shelter, and it very much reminded me of those moments from some of Scorsese's mob movies that detail the daily operations of the criminal underground. This film even has a decent amount of voiceover! Man, Weitz really does have a lot of guts!
Anyways, this film might be flawed, but it's still pretty good. What ultimately saves it are the performances. Dano is quite believable as the conflicted and lost Nick, and this is another example of how he is one of the best actors of his generation. Olivia Thirlby is also quite strong as Nick's 'love interest', a fellow employee at the shelter with a troubled past of her own. It was also nice seeing Wes Studi again, perhaps the first new film I've seen him in since perhaps the 90s maybe. Julianne Moore is also pretty good in her limited but important role as Nick's mom. And what about De Niro? Well, this is probably one of, if not the best performance of his is about a decade or so. He's great at conveying the delusions and frustrations of the angry, bitter, and unhinged Jonathan. He kinda goes off the deep end a bit much here and there, and this is far from a career best for him, but it's miles better than the bulk of what he's done recently.
All in all, I do recommend this. It's got its problems, and barely scrapes by, but it is entertaining, and has some great performances, so I think that's enough to warrant a watch.
Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is a young man in his 20's who hasn't yet found his vocation in life. He is a budding writer but can't quite decide if he's talented enough and the lack of confidence in his abilities stems from the harsh judgement of his estranged father Jonathan (Robert DeNiro) who considers himself a great writer destined for success one day. Just to fill his time, Nick takes a job at a homeless shelter in Boston, where his father - now down-and-out - makes an appearance and looking to become a resident. It opens up all sorts of wounds for Nick as he now has to face up to his own demons and their dysfunctional relationship.
The opening line of this film has DeNiro's character delivering a voiceover, informing us that "America has produced only three classic writers; Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and me". The same could be said for DeNiro's acting abilities; he is considered one of America's classic actors and this is a welcome return to form from him. It's one of the best roles he has had in years and he really seems to be enjoying himself again, instead of just phoning in a performance. There are glimmers of the master here and although it's not quite up to his highest standards, he at least draws comparisons with his earlier iconic roles. With his vitriolic rants (as well as taxi driving) I couldn't help but envisage an older Travis Bickle or, more closely, an older and equally delusional Rupert Pupkin. Again, DeNiro delivers a finely balanced performance of a deeply flawed individual with delusions of grandeur. As good as he is though, the always reliable Paul Dano cannot be ignored either. This is the second time I've seen Dano play up against a masterful actor (the other being Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood") and come out looking very accomplished indeed. It's in the duality of these two characters that the film benefits from it's most original idea; having the double use of narration from them both. Each time either actor is onscreen they inform us of their take on life and the struggle that they have both faced in their estranged father/son relationship and how their lives will inevitably cross paths again. It's through this clever narrative device and two commanding performances that the film is elevated above the unsure handling of Paul Weitz' direction. The material is strong enough (based on Nick Flynn's actual memoirs) but Weitz struggles a little with it and seems unsure of how to balance the humour and the pathos. There are tragic moments that don't quite resonate as well as they should which could be a result of Weitz' past credentials mainly consisting of comedies. It's the actors that stand out here and in that respect Weitz at least deserves some credit in drawing two commanding deliveries as well as great use of music by "Badly Drawn Boy".
This is a good film but had the potential to be better had it landed in the hands of a more experienced director. However, DeNiro chews up the screen like he once did in his prime and for that reason alone, this should be seen by his fervent followers.
Not so bad but not so great either! Mediocre film for me. Being Flynn isn't an easy film to access, but will more than likely touch you in some way or form if you grew up with any sort of parental issues. With the expected strong performance from Paul Dano and the unexpected great performance from Robert De Niro, Being Flynn allows you to witness the troublesome times of an individual, destroy themselves because of it, and eventually rebuild themselves for the better. In a way, it's the most depressing self-help method to ever hit the screen, but that's what makes it so easy to relate to and unlike whatever you expected this film to be.
Based on a true story, 'Being Flynn' follows Nick Flynn (Paul Dano of 'Little Miss Sunshine,' 'There Will Be Blood') who is shocked to have his eccentric and long-absent father, Jonathan (two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro) reach out to him unexpectedly. Still feeling the loss of his mother (played in flashbacks by four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore) in the midst of starting a new relationship with Denise ('Juno''s Olivia Thirlby), the last person Nick wants to see is his father. But you can't outrun fate and slowly Nick comes to realize he has been given the chance to make a real future not only for himself, but for his struggling father too.
"Being Flynn" is a complex, thoughtful and literate dual character study of two difficult people, as one could infer that Jonathan had been in his share of homeless shelters before encountering Nick again. Basically, the movie's message is that to be a writer one has to be something of a liar but being delusional is not going to do anybody any good. It helps that Robert De Niro has a character he can sink his teeth into before he heads off to the ATM again while Paul Dano again proves that he is one of the best young actors around. And Olviia Thirlby makes good on some of her early promise. However, I think Paul Weitz is too lightweight a director to handle such heavy subjects like homelessness and mental illness, preferring instead to emphasize the humor and giving us an ending that is simply too pat.
The performances are good here. However, I felt like I have seen De Niro, Dano, and Moore play these types of roles before in other films.
As experienced as this film's director is in atmospheric fluffiness, I really was expecting to face quite a bit of slowness, and was relieved to find that the final product manages to keep generally reasonably lively, though not exactly thrilled, because entertaining as this film is, after a while, momentum does die down, leaving plotting to drag its feet a bit and throw off engagement value a touch. Slow spells are few and far between, yet they can be found after a while, and dilute compellingness a bit, though not as much as a flaw that is also limited in presence, but more prominent than I expected: subtlety lapses, which are rarely, if ever so immense that this film feels like a bad Hallmark melodrama, but when they do arrive, sometimes in the form of an overemphatic montage set to lame alternative soft rock, they cheese up resonance with superficiality that dilutes depth. Now, the film is rarely, if ever quite as dramatically effective as it could have been, but these lapses in subtlety, no matter how limited in quantity, particularly do a number on resonance, and yet, the detrimental effectiveness of the occasional lapse in subtlety and occasional lapse in liveliness all but pales in comparison to what seems to be this film's biggest issue, of all things, focal unevenness. The film doesn't run but about, say, fifteen minutes before it see the first meeting between between our father-son leads, yet those fifteen minutes feel like thirty as we exhaustingly jerk back and forth between the development segment of Paul Dano's Nick Flynn character and Robert De Niro's Jonathan Flynn character, and after our leads make their first confrontation, freneticism in focal jumps dies down a bit, though not enough, as the film still finds plenty of times to slip up in its juggling two main storylines, if not crowbarring in the occasional flashback to Nick Flynn's childhood, and such a formula gets to be disengagingly repetitious, or, at the very least, emphatic about how this film doesn't have enough time to explore its subject matter as thoroughly as it should. I'm not necessarily saying that this film deserves to be sprawling, but its subject matter does boast much in the way of potential depth and range, yet at a mere 102 minutes, the final execution of this worthy and layered story concept finds itself with only so much time to meditate upon its depth, but still plenty of time for you meditate upon how there's only so much delicacy put into, not necessarily story structure, but storytelling. Paul Weitz isn't entirely ready to take on subject matter with this much potential weight, thus he tones down the immensity of this subject matter's value, while making his share of storytelling hiccups to further distance resonance, until you ultimately end up with a film that could have been more. Still, what this film ultimately is is decent, with many a flaw, yet not enough to take away from your enjoyment in this film as, if nothing else, an entertaining effort with its share of nifty technical stylistic touches.
It's always strange to say that the fun factor in a film is augmented by strong editing, yet films that go particularly livened up by stylish editing are out there, and this film is one of them, not necessarily being as lively in its editing as something like last year's "Dirty Girl", but with quite a few slickly nifty points in story editing that can't fully cut out the focus issues of the film, but certainly add a degree of lively comfort to the tightness that this film boasts a bit too much of. Joan Sobel's editing isn't exactly extremely extraordinary, but it is more clever than I expected and colors things up, yet not quite as much as, well, Paul Weitz, at least as writer, for although Weitz's script is about as flawed as Weitz's direction, there are plenty of sharp moments in dialogue and humor, some of which get to be too sharp, to the point of feeling a touch too theatrical, though not to where you're not engaged enough by the wit within the punch-up to Weitz's sceenplay that supplement the final product's entertainment value. We're not looking at an Aaron Sorkin-level of punch-up with this film's script, but there is much liveliness within Weitz's dialogue and comic relief, as sure as there is liveliness within Weitz's characterization, which is, as I said throughout the better half of the last paragraph, much too flawed, not spending as much time as it should with flesh-out, and making things all the worse by presenting conceptually serious dramatic notes with only so much weight, but still doing an adequate job of associating you with scenarios and characters that feel audaciously realistic. Weitz digs into humanity about as much as he can when facing resistance by dramatic shortcomings, and that's just enough for you to get something of a reasonably tight grip on the value of this film's subject matter, which explores homelessness, mental instability, overambition, self-loathing, family distance and all sorts of other themes that define this drama as a human one. Before you people get too excited, allow me to once again emphasize that the many layers to this film's worthy subject matter are explored rather superficially, when not just plain messily mishandled, yet there's no denying that this film's depth, at least in its basic form, is worthy, especially when you go reminded of this fact by what is actually done right in Weitz script, a mess that remains colorful enough to sustain your interest adequately, and do so with considerable help from the performers who truly bring this film's depth to life about as much as they can. Sure, plenty of supporting players in this game do their part, but this is the Paul Dano's and Robert De Niro's show, which offers our talented pair of leads only so much material, largely due to the dramatic shortcomings that I keep going on and on about, but still enough to work with for you to invest yourself in our leads, with Dano portraying the self-loathing, unrealized artist who is in for plenty of life-defining experiences convincingly, and occasionally with a fair bit of emotional strength, while De Niro immediately wins you over with his convincing and charismatic portrayal of an overambitious deadbeat, before all-out stealing the show with a powerful portrayal of a delusional mess of a mentally, emotionally and socially unstable man, sold on you by De Niro's layered and gripping emotional range, which reminds you of why he has become the acting legend that he is. If Jonathan Flynn' layers, and, with them, De Niro's acting material more played up in the writing and directorial areas, you would be looking at a performance worthy of the shortlist under best supporting actor listings, yet as things stand, De Niro does a lot to power this film, and recieves help from Dano, and not just because our leads share an effective chemistry that deserves to be presented in a more strongly composed film, yet nevertheless stands as a factor behind this film's being decent, regardless of its unforuntate shortcomings.
To close the book, slow spells and lapses in subtlety hit the scene here and there, and dilute emotional resonance, though decidedly not as much as messy focal issues that stand as more consistent than they should be, thus creating a formula that is both repetitious and emphatic about how this film is too tight for its own good, to where not enough depth is explored to compensate for the other storytelling missteps that go into making this drama underwhelming, yet cannot battle back what is, in fact, done right with this film, which boasts editing that is almost as colorful as dialogue and comic relief that break up characterization that is lacking, but still human enough to earn enough of your investment - reinforced by a compelling performances by Paul Dano and show-stealing performances by Robert De Niro - to make "Being Flynn" an entertaining and generally reasonably engaging portrait on the instability within humans that still stands to be painted with more vividness.
2.5/5 - Fair
One of my problems with most dramas and comedy films is the typically unimaginative plotting. I can't understand why a filmmaker wouldn't want to at least experiment and think outside the box; but maybe that's Hollywood for you. The most real and down-to-earth dramatic films these days are no doubt the independent offerings. These are films that give you a slice of life in its most uncompromising form (preferably). But I can't invest in an on-screen portrayal of reality unless the performances are "real". And that is where a lot of films that I've had the displeasure of sitting through fail rather miserably. And that's also where "Being Flynn", a drama that is slightly more mainstream than the films that it matches in quality, succeeds the most.
The story, which is about a man and his complicated relationship with his newly resurfaced father, is based on the memoir by Nick Flynn titled "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City", unread by me. Nick Flynn is portrayed by Paul Dano, maybe one of the only actors working today who could tackle this kind of role. The father, Jonathan Flynn, is played by Robert De Niro, who somehow seems to once again possess the kind of gritty integrity that he had when working with Scorsese and other talented directors back in his prime but appeared to have lost over the years (see "Little Fockers"). Jonathan was imprisoned for his conman-like activity when Nick was a kid, and he was left to be cared for by his mother (Julianne Moore), who killed herself not long after he had entered adulthood.
In her suicide note, Nick's mother did not mention Jonathan as a potential source for her sorrow. What we know is that she was stressed, worked two jobs, and had read one of Nick's early poems on the same day that she did the deed. In some ways, Nick blames himself; his father was apparently a writer, albeit one who had yet to publish a real work, and his mother told him never to follow in his footsteps. But he couldn't resist. And on similar grounds, he blames his father for abandoning him at such a young age and perhaps being the sole cause for his shitty childhood. You'd think it would give Nick a lot to write about, but on his own as an adult, he feels artistically and emotionally blocked.
He takes a job at a homeless shelter after being kicked out of his now ex-girlfriend's apartment. One day, Jonathan shows up; a sad, homeless drunkard. This troubles Nick, as he will eventually have to reach out to the father that he hasn't seen for 18 years prior; the father that he's grown up to resent. Every time he looks at his father, he sees a potential future version of himself. Nick has trouble coping and resorts to drugs and alcohol; a spitting image. He will have to try and conquer his internal and external demons. Obviously, it won't be easy.
The film, directed by Paul Weitz, is predictable and not necessarily atypical for its genre; but nonetheless is a fine showcase of genuine emotions and performances. I usually do not enjoy movies like this at all; but instead of making it its mission to be inspiring and upbeat, the film is mostly gritty, especially in its portrayal of Jonathan's life on the streets. The material is compelling and not all the raw emotion makes it to the screen, but these are some superb actors giving it their all, and a good portion of it manages to resonate, if not in the most mind-blowing way possible. There will always be movies like this being made, but the question is whether they'll continue to be made this well. The casting makes it what it is, otherwise it's a pretty average movie. But think about it. Dano and De Niro are both perfect; with the latter giving probably his best performance since "Meet the Parents". Olivia Thirlby is also fantastic as a girl who also works at the homeless shelter, providing a love interest for Nick and also an extra layer of vulnerability for his character.
I don't know everything about the real life Nick Flynn; aside from that he lived a life similar to the one we see on film, is married to actress Lili Taylor (who plays a supporting character, of course), and became a part-time teacher of poetry and writing at Columbia University for some time. But if I had to guess, I'd say he'd be pretty proud of "Being Flynn". It's a strong, engaging film that might hit closer to home with some (particularly anyone who has been through the same childhood traumas as the titular Flynn) than it did with me, but I'm still willing to admit that I liked it. It's worth seeing for the De Niro performance (and everyone else's), the scenes that are truly great (Nick's descent into depression and substance abuse is one of the finer turning points in my opinion), and the chance to see what appears to be a great mind put in action for cinema, but seen through different lenses.