Being Flynn (2012)
Directed by Paul Weitz
This is diamond in the rough material right here. The diamond is “Being Flynn,” a stirring family drama based on the memoir of its narrator, Nick Flynn, played by Paul Dano. The rough is the movie’s critical reception. The jury on Rotten Tomatoes is still out – its roughly half and half love to hate ratio leaves it in limbo between rotten and fresh. And “Variety” wasn’t afraid to criticize Dano as stiff and emotionless. Regardless of what the critics say, “Being Flynn” captures the raw essence of every complicated father/son relationship.
When Nick’s self-righteous, alcoholic starving-artist father Jonathan (Robert De Niro) is kicked out of his shabby apartment, he finally calls on his son for assistance…picking the scab off an 18-year silence. Sooner than either of them would ever have expected, Jonathan has no options better than rooming at the homeless shelter at which Nick offers his time. What comes next is an emotional roller coaster, whereon Nick tries to avoid becoming like his father, Jonathan insists that he already is, and the men and women surrounding them try to handle the volatile new relationship.
That “true masterpiece” Jonathan obsesses over – his next great American novel – it might as well be this script. No, hear me out. Director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”) and Nick Flynn co-write a screenplay for the ages, a poignant text that’s universally true but genuinely original. You know what I’m talking about. It makes so much sense you ask yourself “Why hasn’t somebody written that before?” Weitz worked on the script for a long seven years full of revising and reconsidering, but eventually, he got it right. Really right.
Dano is a master of understatement, capable of expressing an array of the most complicated emotions – genuine confusion, disappointment, shock – without much effort. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of emotional outrages. If “Being Flynn” lacks anything, its loud passion. Discounting one or two climactic scenes, we don’t see the rage and frustration that we feel as we watch. And if we do, we see it in Dano’s subtle use of dialogue and body language. He can act. Just not the way you might expect him to. His comical musings of his dead mother (Julianne Moore, a slice of fun in a minor role) remind us why he feels the way he does, and the hilarious antics of his paranoid roommate help him vocalize his emotions. We appreciate it. And who better to tackle the difficult role of Nick’s alcoholic and homeless father than acting god De Niro? Nobody, that’s who. De Niro shows again why he’s considered one of America’s greatest living actors. When Flynn’s alcoholic binges get the best of him, he’s both a thespian superhero and a stubborn child. De Niro embodies the role, letting his acting gusto run loose all over the screen.
The one-man soundtrack (an honor for 43-year-old UK indie rocker Damon Gough) gives this yoyo of a story some consistency, and the score (this is one of my favorite parts!) was written twice to complement the distinct personalities of the father/son team. Nick gets a techy track that shrieks with anticipation, while Jonathan gets a classical piece that better suits his self-proclaimed mastery. And that’s how you compose a score, ladies and gents.
“Being Flynn” is a tender family drama interweaving two remarkable true stories. It’s about where you’re heading in life, and why it might not be as bad as you think. It might not be “The Expendables,” but I’d recommend it as the perfect movie to pull out this father’s day.