Review: Being Flynn

March 16, 2012 by  

Robert De Niro stars in Paul Weitz's "Being Flynn," here reviewed by Bucket Reviews film critic Danny Baldwin.

For all I know, Nick Flynn’s memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, upon which the film Being Flynn is based, could be a literary masterwork. I’m sure that there is much to be learned from the true story of an astray twenty-something working in a homeless shelter, who meets his father for the first time when he wanders in off the street, looking for a bed. Unfortunately, writer/director Paul Weitz teaches multiplex audiences none of it, turning what could have been a human character study into an artificial melodrama in which run-of-the-mil father-son fractures are explored.

Nick, the younger Flynn played by Paul Dano, spends most of his time exhibiting a blank stare charged with longing. This is an established acting style in melodrama that works well when said longing is nuanced, but in the context of Weitz’ relatively empty vision, it just feels like Dano wants us to take pity on his directionless young man. Nick’s contemplations are limited to the trivial – Why did both of my parents abandon me? (His mother committed suicide when he was 22); Will I end up like my deadbeat dad? (They’re both starving authors); Where do I go from here? Only the most gullible of moviegoers will find themselves affected by such conventions.

The elder Flynn, Jonathan, is played by Robert De Niro, who along with Weitz can’t seem to make up his mind as to whether he is supposed to be mentally ill or just a screw-up, robbing the character of a soul in the process. Jonathan’s crazy proclamations—like that he is one of the three most distinguished American authors, alongside Twain and Salinger, despite a lack of published works—could lend support to either interpretation, but De Niro and Weitz never give the viewer any definitive clues. Perhaps they’re trying to simulate how Nick must feel when he ruminates on his father, who is mostly a mystery to him, but given that Nick lacks the definition required for us to put ourselves in his shoes in the first place, this is effectively futile.

Given how little of depth Being Flynn actually has to say about its characters, the severity of the content verges on laughable. Jonathan becomes so disruptive he gets kicked out of the homeless shelter, Nick develops a cocaine addiction – both things that apparently happened in the true story, but in Weitz’s melodramatic presentation, they feel like plot-based ploys designed to make the viewer sympathize for the characters in the absence of actual resonant emotions.

Weitz also seems determined to evoke De Niro’s past glories—he offers a shot of the actor behind a cab ala Taxi Driver and a dual voiceover track ala Goodfellas (though the actor did not narrate that film, as he does here)—perhaps as if to fool the audience that if a movie stars De Niro, it must be good. Sadly, after too many duds to count in the past five years (this, Killer EliteEverybody’s Fine, and Righteous Kill are among the most egregious), the once consistent Oscar-winner now seems more interested in cashing a fat paycheck than making good movies.

1 1/2 Buckets

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Being Flynn (2012, USA). Produced by Dan Balgoyen, Caroline Baron, Michael Costigan, Kerry Kohansky, Meghan Lyvers, Andrew Miano, Jane Rosenthal, and Paul Weitz. Directed and written for the screen by Paul Weitz, based on the book by Nick Flynn. Starring Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Eddie Rouse, Steve Cirbus, Lili Taylor, and Victor Rasuk. Distributed by Focus Features. Rated R, with a running time of 102 minutes.