The story is not an uncommon one in films. A boy does not have a relationship with his father until he pops up into his life with no notice and causes trouble. This is generally what happens in Being Flynn. What makes this story different is that it is all based on a memoir by author Nick Flynn entitled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.
Paul Dano plays Nick Flynn in the film, and Robert De Niro plays the missing, eccentric father, Jonathan. Nick grew up with very little contact with his father. He had a good relationship with his mother, Jody (Julianne Moore), until her death left him alone. Nick grew up knowing his father was a self-proclaimed great writer. He told Nick as much in his letters that arrived every so often as he grew up. Jonathan seemed to spurn Nick to taking on writing as a hobby, knowing it must be genetically engrained in him to be a great writer as well. Nick’s writing hobby never really went anywhere. He does not really have a career. He is not too good at relationships either. Jonathan falls on hard times, and out of the blue, calls Nick to help him move out of his apartment. Their worlds cross again after Nick picks up a job at a homeless shelter and Jonathan shows up one night as a guest.
The film centers entirely on Nick and Jonathan. They alternate in narrating the film and the audience gets to see different portions of their lives. While there is a great supporting cast, Robert de Niro and Paul Dano are the stars in every way possible. Both actors give tremendous performances. Being Flynn is the best performance I have seen out of Robert de Niro in a long time. His portrayal of Jonathan, who is an alcoholic and a tad eccentric, truly shows why he is one of the great actors of our time. Paul Dano gives a great performance as well. His character is torn between trying to help and impress his failure of a father and knowing his father is no good. Dano has a pretty eclectic resume and this seems to be one of the more mainstream films he has acted in. He pulls off being a damaged, confused, and wandering man very well.
Being Flynn does have some humor in it, so it is not this rough portrayal of everything messed up that happens to Nick. Some of the supporting cast (Eddie Rouse, Chris Chalk, Thomas Middlemitch) helps ease the seriousness of the film. Director and writer Paul Weitz uses different techniques to introduce us to some of these characters, including cutaways that have the character speaking directly to the camera. This adds to some of the comedy of the film. Seeing as most of the film centers on a homeless shelter, there is no shortage of strange events and characters to take the focus away from the seriousness of the film.
I have to question why Being Flynn was not released earlier to be considered for awards. The performances by Paul Dano and Robert de Niro deserve something. While the subject matter in Being Flynn is not a happy subject, it is worth the chance to see it on a big screen and the actors’ portrayal of their real subjects. Being Flynn is a great and refreshing departure from the other higher profile films vying for your attention this week.
I give Being Flynn 4 “vodka bottles” out of 5.