Movie Review: Being Flynn
Starring: Paul Dano, Robert DeNiro, And Olivia Thirlby
Plot: An angsty aspiring writer, Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) reconnects with his aspiring writer father, Jonathan (Robert De Niro) at a homeless shelter. Nick was there to work; Jonathan was there to stay.
For years, it has been popular opinion that Robert De Niro has been phoning it in. He was once one of the greatest actors not just of his generation but possibly of all time. It is sad to see him slum it in some pretty horrific movies in some pretty horrific roles. What Being Flynn proves to us is that he is not as off his game as popular opinion would imply. He plays Jonathan Flynn, an aspiring writer who crafted one of the great American novels but has yet to get it published. On his long road of what he refers to as research, he met a woman, Jody (Julianne Moore), and fell in love. This love would be fleeting as he takes off for further “research,” but he leaves her with a bundle of joy named Nick.
De Niro is a powerhouse. Watching him silently roam the streets of New York City with glossed over drunken eyes darting around absorbing the sights is surprisingly exciting. Every once in a while, he breaks into a loud rant that sounds more like wild prose from some obscure beatnik novel. He reminds me of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I know that may be crazy to hear because Nicholson as MacMurphy may be the greatest performance in the history of cinema, but the similarities are there. Unfortunately, Jonathan Flynn has reached an extra all time low with no money or shelter to speak of. He ends up looking for help at a homeless shelter.
Among the people who work at the homeless shelter is his son, Nick Flynn. Paul Dano plays Nick Flynn with forced world weariness like one of those young intellectuals who feel like they already have everything worked out. But ironically he would also be the first to say he has no idea. He is a bit or a hopeless romantic, an ashamed optimist hiding behind cynic wit. He is an easy protagonist to like. Nick grows up idolizing his father compartmentalizing his neglectfulness from his mysteriousness, so much so, that he ends up pursuing the same career. His employment at the homeless shelter is what Jonathan would call research. During this time, he starts a relationship with Denise (Olivia Thirlby), who connects with Nick’s angst but looks down on him for his cynicism.
Being Flynn’s biggest mistake, which had the potential to derail the whole movie, is that it doesn’t commit to any one narrative. Both De Niro and Dano participate in voice over narrations. It was annoying and distracting and ultimately convoluted whatever kind of meaning the filmmakers were trying to make. It glosses over the obvious role reversal the two have as Nick starts caring for Jonathan before contemplating abandoning him when the going gets tough. It ends up being an unsentimental look at a father-son relationship that doesn’t start until both parties are adults and neither of their lives are on sturdy ground.