Being Flynn (Focus Features, R)


film being-flynn_75The best parts of the film are those that take place in the community of the homeless shelter and its cast of employees and homeless men.


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Coming from someone who hasn’t read the book, the movie is pretty good. It falls in that category where I’m willing to bet that the source material is better (I’m now wishing I’d read it prior to seeing the film), though the movie is good enough to make me want to read the book all the more. What happens here is that young Nick (played as an adult by Paul Dano) was raised by his mother Jody (Julianne Moore) and didn’t see his father for 18 years. By the time Nick makes contact with his dad (at least somewhat unintentionally), his mom has committed suicide and his dad Jonathan (Robert De Niro), a self-described great writer but actual racist homophobe who may have never written anything, is in the process of losing his job, house, and mind.

Nick has a lot in common with his father: He likes to write (though seems to have no delusions that he’s actually good at it) and behaves in a fairly self-destructive manner. With the help of sort-of girlfriend Denise (Olivia Thirlby), he mostly straightens out and gets a job at a local homeless shelter. When his father reappears needing to stay in the shelter, life gets difficult for everyone involved.

That sounds like fairly generic, depressing memoir material, and perhaps it is, but the movie works, thanks mostly to its cast and writer/director Paul Weitz. Weitz is billed in the ad campaign as the director of About a Boy, which is of course true, but he’s probably best known for being the director of the original American Pie—the point being that he has more range than people might expect of him. This range suits him well in Being Flynn, which is depressing and serious but never hard to watch or uninteresting.

The best parts of the film are those that take place in the community of the homeless shelter and its cast of employees and homeless men. Among the employees is Lili Taylor, always a welcome addition to any cast (and Nick Flynn’s real-life wife). And speaking of welcome additions to the cast, it’s nice to see Juno and Snow Angels’ Thirlby again, a very promising young actress circa 2007 who hasn’t done much of anything noteworthy since.

And of course there are Dano and De Niro. The former has established himself as a sometimes-great young actor (There Will Be Blood, Meek’s Cutoff) who maybe isn’t terribly reliable or consistent (Gigantic). He seems to excel when placed opposite a great actor (like versus Daniel Day-Lewis in Blood). Here, of course, he’s opposite De Niro, and as a result does just fine, though sometimes he seems to maybe be playing De Niro a little too conspicuously (like how De Niro did Brando in The Godfather, Part II).

De Niro’s got more meat to chew on as Jonathan Flynn than he’s had in a while (compare this role to his previous collaboration with Paul Weitz, 2010’s Little Fockers, and you’ll see what I mean), and much could be made about similarities between Jonathan Flynn and Travis Bickle—it doesn’t seem unreasonable to see the former being an older version of the latter (especially since they’re both employed as cab drivers).

So while Being Flynn sometimes veers toward overly predictable (the way the story is structured, you know from the outset how it is going to end) or odd (Badly Drawn Boy is still making music?) or easy (it’s extremely reliant on voiceover narration), it’s still worth seeing for its cast and a handful of standout scenes. A montage of young Nick playing catch with a series of changing father figures, or a scene in which a homeless man is convinced an ATM security camera is making a movie about him, only to have Jonathan denigrate him that a movie about his life would be boring and redundant. Of course, in fact, we’re watching a movie ostensibly about a homeless man’s life. | Pete Timmermann

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