Movie Reviews

February 22, 2012

Being Flynn

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Cast:
Robert De Niro as Jonathan
Paul Dano as Nick Flynn
Julianne Moore as Jody Flynn
Olivia Thirlby as Denise
Lili Taylor as Joy
Dale Dickey as Marie
Victor Rasuk as Gabriel
Billy Wirth as Travis
Chris Chalk as Ivan
Katherine Waterston as Sarah
Steve Cirbus as Jeff
Victor Pagan as Beady Eyed Bill
Kelly McCreary as Inez
Joey Boots as Joey / AA Group Leader
Eddie Rouse as Carlos

Directed by Paul Weitz

Story:
Writer Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is still dealing with the death of his mother (Julianne Moore) when his long-absent father Jonathan (Robert De NIro), also a writer, turns up looking for a place to stay and is turned away. Taking a job at a homeless shelter to get closer to the far more practical Denise (Olivia Thirlby), Nick discovers he has a knack for taking care of others, something that’s put to the test when his father ends up on the streets and turns up at the shelter looking for help. Can and will Nick set aside their differences?

Analysis:
There may be bigger surprises in 2012 than Paul Weitz’s adaptation of author Nick Flynn’s memoir “Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City,” but it’s unlikely any other movie will have such an impact on you that comes from out of left field.

On paper, Nick Flynn’s literary-minded novel isn’t something that would necessarily work as an engaging film, as its dry introduction of two generations of writers transforms into higher drama about two men dealing with serious issues – homelessness, addiction as well as resolving long-standing family issues. It’s not something that immediately grabs you as it starts off slowly and isn’t as comedic as some might be expecting, using an intriguing dueling first-person narrative that cuts between Nick and his father.

The film really finds its footing once Nick takes a job at a homeless shelter, mainly to get closer to the commitment-shy Denise (Olivia Thirlby), but he soon realizes how important that work is. His father one day shows up looking for a bed, and he ends up staying at the shelter for months, but watching his father’s deteriorating condition is too much for Nick and he turns to drugs, getting more and more absorbed into his addiction.

One of the main reasons “Being Flynn” works even remotely is because Robert De Niro and Paul Dano’s portrayal of their characters has you fully on board almost immediately. De Niro has finally found a role that allows him to fully flex every one of his acting muscles for the first time in many years. Jonathan Flynn is funny one moment but constantly veering into darker territory as we watch how Jonathan’s situation makes him increasingly schizophrenic. This is also one of Paul Dano’s finest roles and performances in some time where he isn’t just delivering another laidback performance, but he’s holding his own against a powerhouse actor similar to what he did in P.T. Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Olivia Thirlby also plays a far more mature role than we’ve seen her as the woman who forces Nick to face his problems.

This is very much a return to form for Paul Weitz who for one reason or another seemed to have been floundering since “In Good Company” but whose return to smaller, more intimate and personal stories allows him to get deeper into this material than in recent years. The greatest joy fans of his earlier work may find in “Being Flynn” is his reunion with Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) for the film’s soundtrack nearly ten years after “About a Boy,” something that brings so much to he tone of the film working so well, especially in flashbacks to Nick’s life growing up with his mother, played by Julianne Moore, who is working two jobs to make ends meet for their mini-family.

Most of the film’s middle act takes place in a homeless shelter that feels so realistic as if Weitz got actual homeless people to play roles, and one feels the same about Nick’s group therapy for his addiction, and this attention to making these scenes feel real go a long way to showing how Weitz got into the life of the real Nick Flynn to depict this part as honestly and accurately as possible.

Sure, some of the tougher aspects of Flynn’s story are softened up for mass moviegoing audiences, but the overall results are just as powerful as we watch this father and son relationship go through so much turbulence before finally being resolved.

The Bottom Line:
There is absolute brilliance at work here both in the way Weitz tells Nick Flynn’s story and how he gets such fantastic performances out of De Niro and Dano, which effectively pulls you into their lives and knocks you for an emotional loop as it goes along.

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