When was the last time you saw Robert De Niro in a film where he looked like he was actually trying, let alone exceptional? Off the top of my head, I think it was Stardust.
When was the last time you saw Robert De Niro in a film where he looked like he was actually trying, let alone exceptional? Off the top of my head, I think it was Stardust. And that was back in 2007. Before that, Hell, for a really good role you have to go back to Heat and Casino in the mid/late-1990’s. Thankfully, in Being Flynn, we see some of De Niro’s best work in years. I was beginning to wonder if he really had checked out completely.
Nick Flynn is a twenty-something aspiring writer and poet that doesn’t have a lot of direction in life at the moment. He grew up with his mom while his con-man, self pro-claimed writer/poet father, Johnathan Flynn, spent most of his time in jail or not around. John Flynn now spends his time drinking too much and pontificating on how he is one of the greatest American writers and his epic novel will make him a household name. While working in a Boston homeless shelter, Nick crosses paths with his father after 18 years apart and is faced with a lot of unresolved issues about him.
Being Flynn is definitely a dark movie, though sometimes darkly funny. Paul Dano is great here as Nick, the son that has been under the shadow of an absent, deluded writer father all is life. He seems to wear his troubles and uncertainty like clothes that weigh too much but but have been on him so long he doesn’t know how to take them off. He becomes challenged to confront an entire childhood of John’s absence, and in turn, his own growing substance abuse after his father is forced out of his apartment. Does the apple really fall that far from the tree, can Nick be his own person, and does he separate himself from his father completely or attempt a chance for any kind of relationship?
Being Flynn is narrated in parts by Nick, and by his father John. It’s interesting in this case to see the two points of view expressed this way. Sometimes voice-over can be irritating, but here it’s a positive thing. We also see much of Nick’s childhood through flashbacks. His mom, played wonderfully by Julianne Moore, struggles with two jobs, her alcohol issues, and a string of different boyfriends that each act as revolving door father figures for Nick. I love this scene where the camera pans back and forth from Nick to the guy throwing the ball, and each time the camera pans back there’ s a different guy tossing the ball to Nick.
Robert De Niro plays Johnathan just how you hope he would: like he means it. He expresses anger and racism at those he doesn’t really understand and he’s full of delusions of grandeur of being a great writer while spiraling downwards into periods of violent dementia. There’s purpose and energy in his performance that I don’t think I’ve seen in a while.
Being Flynn isn’t perfect, but it’s a solid film with strong performances by everyone in it. I think that’s the strongest element. And the material itself will connect to some more than others. Those with father/son stuff may feel closer to it. The film is based on Nick Flynn’s novel, Another Bullshit Day in Suck City, which, by the way, is one of the best book titles ever. But big kudos to De Niro in this. I hope we see more work like this from him. A solid three and a half kittenhands.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer not oblivious to the fact that the Johnathan Flynn character was a taxi driver in this.