By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Being Flynn is a melancholy drama about a long-estranged father and son that never quite reconciles our estrangement from either of them.
Both are writers, of a sort. (The unpublished sort.)
The mild-mannered son, Nick Flynn, a twentysomething played by Paul Dano, writes poetry and struggles with addiction to drink and drugs, and feels pained when he thinks about his hard-working, long-suffering mom, played by Julianne Moore.
Temporarily homeless and jobless, he’s urged on by a new female acquaintance (Olivia Thirlby) he’s attracted to to take a job with a homeless shelter.
Nick’s deadbeat dad, Jonathan Flynn, a bigoted blowhard (played by Robert De Niro) who’s the cause of his mom’s suffering, is an alcoholic ex-con, delusional enough to describe himself as one of the best writers in the world, casually claiming that “everything I write is a masterpiece.”
One day, after 18 years of virtually no contact with Nick whatsoever, Jonathan calls him out of the blue and requests that he come over and help him move his stuff to a storage facility because he’s been evicted from his apartment.
Nick goes and helps, but wonders if Jonathan has really written anything at all, let alone a masterpiece he has identified as Memoirs of a Moron.
This tale of parallel experiences — schematically edited, and accompanied by dueling voiceover narrators, so that we cannot miss the symmetry — finds the son wondering whether he’s just as deluded as his father, whom he desperately wants not to turn into.
And we just know that these parallel lives and lines will intersect.
Which they do when, one other day, Jonathan, now homeless and stripped of his cabbie’s license (shades of De Niro-starring Taxi Driver), turns up at Nick’s shelter, to Nick’s embarrassment and shame, and checks himself in.
Suddenly the emotional crutches that Nick has been avoiding of late begin beckoning again.
The writer-director, Paul Weitz (About a Boy, In Good Company, Little Fockers) has adapted playwright/poet Nick Flynn’s 2004 memoir, rather more colorfully titled Another Bulls— Night in Suck City, moved it from Boston to New York City, and tossed in a selfconscious slew of oblique or glancing reminders of Taxi Driver.
For De Niro, who has been uninspired or absent in so many of his ho-hum roles in recent years, this project at least finds him engaged. No mugging and empty posturing this time. It’s still not enough of a return to his glory days (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Godfather: Part II) to stop us from noticing the ACTING.
And, once again, his relentlessly belligerent characterization wears thin. But at least this time there’s a bit less ham in the sandwich.
Dano, on the other hand, who’s done fine work in such films as Little Miss Sunshine and There Will be Blood, takes a low-key approach, as if to counterbalance De Niro’s bombast.
If his underplaying can’t quite rescue the film’s excesses, he at least holds his own opposite iconic De Niro.
In the final analysis, though, what it comes down to is that the source material — which is not very cinematic to begin with and boasts no major come-hither characters — demands, if not a dash of likability, then at least a level of sensitivity and psychological depth that neither Weitz nor his cast ever quite achieve.
So we’ll shelter 2 stars out of 4. The problem with Being Flynn is being with the Flynns.