By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Director Paul Weitz and actor Robert De Niro last worked together in 2010’s Little Fockers. Meaning that anything, truly any sequence of filmed images cobbled together and viewable on any sort of monitoring apparatus would, by comparison, look like the second coming of Casablanca.
Enter Being Flynn, a far superior outing for both Weitz and De Niro, underscored by a beautifully melancholic performance by Paul Dano as protagonist Nick Flynn. Adapted from Flynn’s 2004 memoir, Nick is a man in his late 20s who is foundering without a compass. Living under the shadow of his mother’s suicide and his father’s 18-year absence, Nick is abruptly jolted out of his malaise when his father (De Niro’s Jonathan Flynn) suddenly contacts him from out of the blue. The senior Flynn, having just been evicted from his apartment, insists that his son help him move out. Nick is too surprised to do anything but comply. But the father’s not quite through shocking his son, subsequently arriving at the homeless shelter where Nick works, demanding a bed. Before joining the other homeless denizens who will flop down on one of the dozens of louse-ridden, sagging cots, Jonathan imperiously states to his son that, “If a private room opens up, I’d appreciate it.”
With a dual narrative that volleys between father and son, both of them trying to get at “Being Flynn,” Nick ultimately has to discover who he is … and who he most decidedly is not.
De Niro vigorously bites into the role of Jonathan, an ex-con, virulent racist and homophobe, who fiercely contends that he’s a top-notch scribe, claiming that, “America has produced only three classic writers: J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain and me.” Juxtaposed next to this bloviating bully, Dano’s fragile Nick attempts to stand his ground, all but cowering as Jonathan repeatedly cuts him down, denying Nick’s corporeal being with a bellowing, “You are me; I made you! You are nothing!”
More than the day-old newspapers he uses to protect his feet and ears, Jonathan wraps himself up in the façade of his fictitious artistic merit, trying to insulate himself from an ever-pressing cold, cruel world. He is Jake La Motta by way of Blanche DuBois … but woefully without the requisite charm that would allow him to depend upon the kindness of strangers.
The schism between actions and words is what makes Jonathan so fascinating. Curling up on top of a sidewalk grate that’s expelling enough hot air to warm himself against the freezing night temperatures, hiding as he watches another homeless man being beaten to death, and begging an overnight stay from some acquaintance who he knows will refuse him – all the while asserting that every piece of his prose is a masterpiece – is the stuff of compelling character drama. We can’t help but wonder how this man, manifesting a sometime violent dementia, continues to stay alive.
While the story lacks focus, often taking too much of an aimless ramble around the father and son, other factors come into play that add to the movie’s overall strength. Such as its unwavering look at the conditions of the homeless, both in and out of the shelter. And touching supporting performances, though all too brief, such as Julianne Moore as Nick’s mother, gamely supporting her beloved child by juggling two jobs, her depression eventually driving her to suicide. Additionally, Olivia Thirlby makes an indelible impression as Nick’s straight-talking co-worker and sometime lover, as well as Lili Taylor (spouse of the real-life Nick Flynn), who gives us a quick, yet searing snapshot of a shelter employee who was once homeless herself.
Ultimately the film belongs to the younger Flynn, and it is his journey that we need to champion. The ending may be a bit too pat, but as journeys go, this rocky road is well worth our time.
Rating on a scale of 5 requests for the song “Gimme Shelter”: 3.5
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Screenplay by: Paul Weitz
Based on the Memoir “Another Bullshit Night in Such City” by: Nick Flynn
Cast: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Olivia Thirlby, Lili Taylor, Wes Studi, Julianne Moore
Running Time: 102 minutes