[Review] – Being Flynn

25 Mar

Title: Being Flynn
Year: 2012
Director: Paul Weitz
Writer: Paul Weitz, based on the book by Nick Flynn
Starring: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Lili Taylor, Dale Dickey, Victor Rasuk
MPAA Rating: R, language throughout, some sexual content, drug use, and brief nudity
Runtime: 102 min
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Metacritic: 53

Paul Weitz has directed such films like In Good Company and About A Boy (the latter with his brother Chris), both of those are seriously splendid little films that I happen to adore; Paul Weitz, however, has also directed Little Fockers, and that film I gave a measly C- to. Robert De Niro has given some of the most iconic performances in the history of film with his roles in movies such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II; Robert De Niro, however, hasn’t delivered one of those great performances in far too long, and he also was in Little Fockers. Though their partnership in the third installment of that particular franchise was pretty bad, this time around they’ve delivered Being Flynn, a film that, while far from perfect, does deliver on some of its promises. The film even has a shot of Robert De Niro driving a New York City Yellow Cab, and that alone kind of gets your hopes up.

Mr. De Niro here plays Jonathan Flynn, the eccentric and long-estranged father of Nick, Paul Dano‘s character, an addiction-prone young man who’s still mourning the loss of his mother and starting out a relationship with Olivia Thirlby‘s Denise, and who finds his life thrown for a loop when he suddenly finds himself reunited with his father. This film could have easily been way too over-the-top and manipulative, but it’s just really nicely handled by Mr. Weitz, he and his actors really do know how to make these characters feel very much real. Though of course it helps that the story is actually taken from the real Nick Flynn’s memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which would have been an insanely rad title for this film.

Both Jonathan and Nick provide voiceovers in this film, and they’re both writers. Jonathan actually says that America has only produced three great writers: Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and himself. Going on to say that everything he writes turns out to be a masterpiece, and that publishers have been in a bidding war for his work; yet losing his apartment, his cab, and wandering the city alone, going to homeless shelters. Nick also writes, but his self-esteem isn’t nearly as high, he’s battling some inner demons brought forth by the long-ago abandonment suffered by his father and the more recent death of his mother (played in flashbacks by Julianne Moore), and while he works at a homeless shelter, only doing so to impress Denise, he meets his father.

Like I said, this story could have been all Lifetime Movie of the Week material, going into an automatic pilot formula of sorts, redeeming Jonathan at the end just as Nick gets super inspired and goes on to become a super amazing writer. We instead get a film that isn’t afraid to acknowledge that life, especially the lives of its characters, is much more complicated and less by-the-numbers. And while there’s a lot that doesn’t really click as well as it ideally should, I do believe Being Flynn is a pretty okay film that certainly deserves a watch; even when you feel like certain things should have been treated further, the Julianne Moore character, for instance, could have been further explored, it always feels like the people making this film really had a feel for this story and these characters, and you have to love that.

You have to love that especially when those people are people like Mr. Weitz, Mr. Dano and Mr. De Niro. Paul Dano I’ve always thought is a good actor, he’s always getting these soft, victim kind of roles (in films like There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine), and he always seems to really embody the character and understand his innerworkings. And while in those films that’s worked really well, that passive aggressive kind of approach and the slow-burning development of character without that much of a bang, I think he lacked something in Being Flynn, I think that blandness to his performance made it unable for me to really invest and like his character as the guy anchoring the story.

As for Mr. De Niro. Well, his rough patch is over. The man is one of the five best actors to have ever lived in my book, and it really is spellbinding that the man who’s given us so many masterful performances has, in the past decade, been in such films as The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Showtime and last year’s excruciating New Year’s Eve. Well, even though Being Flynn isn’t that great a film, I think we’ve gotten a look at the Robert De Niro of old; you get the feeling that Mr. De Niro connected with this role in a way he hasn’t done in years, and the scenes in which Jonathan is just rambling with himself are great, it truly is great to see what he brings to this role. It’s not a close second to that other time we’ve seen him driving a cab, but it’s amongst the best stuff he’s done this millennium.

Being Flynn is a film that could have been much better, you kind of get the gist that it’s a bit undecided and a bit too cautious about itself and, like I said, I don’t think Mr. Dano was present enough to carry the film. But Being Flynn is also a film that, most likely, would have been much worse, and credit to the fact that it didn’t happen goes to a very committed performance by Robert De Niro, and a truly superb directing job by Paul Weitz, who embeds his characters with a genuine feeling of humanity.

Grade: B


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