Dysfunction, beautifully crafted
Paul Weitz unpacks a complicated father-son relationship in Being Flynn
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring Paul Dano, Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore
Based on American poet Nick Flynn’s memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Being Flynn is everything a literary film should be, and director Paul Weitz executes it in a way that makes what is seen on-screen as fluid as reading a book. The movie follows the lives of a father and his son who are both struggling writers. The father, Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), had left his family early in his son’s life, and they don’t meet again until Jonathan loses control of his life and becomes homeless. The sudden presence of his father in his life makes Nick (Paul Dano) question everything he has become, and we are shown how his relationship with his father molds every aspect of his life. Although the film is essentially a coming-of-age story, it unfolds so that we can profoundly understand the process. At first glance, the plot seems banal and sophomoric, but this is pleasantly not the case.
The engrossing storyline calls for strong actors, and De Niro and Dano do not disappoint. De Niro portrays every facet of Jonathan Flynn: a charm-your-pants-off (literally) taxi driver, a deranged homeless man, a smug father, and finally a genuinely proud one. Dano already has the disposition of a confused tenderfoot, but he shows a surprisingly confrontational side as well. In his first scene, Dano stares into a mirror as if he has never met the person staring back and abruptly bashes his head into the mirror. And as his character becomes enslaved to drugs, his twitches and restlessness are spot on. Performances by Julianne Moore as Nick’s mother and Olivia Thirlby as Nick’s girlfriend also deserve praise.
One of the film’s major strengths lies in its innovative montages. In one scene, a young Nick Flynn is in his front yard and as he throws a baseball, the father figure who catches it changes each time. The camera follows the ball back and forth between Flynn and each father figure until the last throw, when the narration refers to his real father. His father is not there to catch the ball, and it instead bounces across the street to his mother, who has just come home from work and picks it up.
In another scene, Nick narrates a poem as his father roams around the streets on a frigid night and finds heater grates where he will sleep for the night with his briefcase as a pillow. As Jonathan becomes deranged in the homeless shelter to the point where he is wrapped in a sheet and peeing on the floor while ranting in the middle of the night, Nick Flynn’s voice narrates over the screaming. After Nick starts abusing drugs, he is shown dancing drunkenly in solitude surrounded by black and the scene fades in. And all the while, narration abruptly changes, sometimes midsentence, between Nick and Jonathan. Weitz uses the fact that the story follows the life of two writers to go beyond the conventions of filmmaking to convey how these two characters affect each other.
To top it all off, the script is perfect. Unfortunately, the trailer puts some of the lines to shame, but when heard in context, they are beautifully crafted and delivered. The dialogue is among the best I’ve seen in recent films — a refreshing change given that so many lines in recent movies are terrible.
Experimentation with the paradigms of film, commendable acting, and a flawless script make it clear: Being Flynn is a winner.