Being Flynn, 2012, USA
Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) is an unemployed young man who has a penchant for writing. His mother (Julianne Moore) raised him alone and died several years prior. Nick moves into a former strip club with several roommates and gets a job at a homeless shelter, where he meets Denise (Olivia Thirlby). Denise and Nick straddle the line between friends and lovers. Nick’s life is turned on its head when his absent father, Jonathan (Robert De Niro) arrives at the shelter. Jonathan believes himself to be a brilliant writer, but he’s also an alcoholic and mentally ill. The film centres around Nick’s difficult relationship with his father and his efforts to come into his own.
Both De Niro and Dano were excellent in the film. This is De Niro’s strongest performance in years and his character is both heartbreaking and pathetic. Dano is one of the best young actors working today, and his film choices always interest me. Most of his leading roles are in independent films, which give him the opportunity to play a variety of different characters. That being said, I do hope he gets more attention as a performer. After his brilliant performance in There Will be Blood, I was surprised he didn’t receive more attention.
The relationship between Jonathan and Nick was fascinating and the two actors had great chemistry. The characters were complex and I enjoyed seeing how Jonathan has influenced Nick. Both men are tremendously damaged and struggle with addiction, but their attitudes towards their addictions are quite different.
Writing is an ongoing theme in the film. Both Jonathan and Nick are writers and the film is narrated heavily by both De Niro and Dano. It gives the audience a sense that these two men are struggling for “superiority”. Whose insight and perspective is more valuable? Who gets the designation of “author”? I thought the film might have benefited more from being told from a single perspective: Nick’s. It is, essentially, Nick’s story of how he copes with the return of his father to his life, and the pieces from the perspective of Jonathan don’t feel as natural and aren’t as strong. I think Jonathan would have been more effective as a supporting character, rather than a “co-lead”. I also would have appreciated more background on Nick’s mother. Her story is told through flashbacks, but they’re brief and idealized in many respects. Her absence in Nick’s life following her death is felt throughout the film and I think that more should have been done so the audience could feel this void, as well.
Being Flynn is now available on Apple TV. It’s thought-provoking and the performances are outstanding, despite some of the narrative flaws.