September 29, 2015

Being Flynn

Paul Weitz, 2012
Being Flynn is a Boston-based drama based on the memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. The film gives young Paul Dano another opportunity to work with one of the greatest actors of all time - Robert Deniro. Dano has had some fortunate employment opportunities at this point in his career. Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Michelle Williams in Kelly Reichart's Meek's Cutoff, Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. Add Steve McQueen in 12 Years a Slave and Denis Villeneuve in Prisoners, two of the best living directors, and it's pretty obvious that Dano has one of the most colorful resumes in Hollywood. He deserves these opportunities though, because he delivers every time.

The narration starts off a bit confused, with young Nick Flynn (Dano) fighting for control of the story with his father Jonathan Flynn (Deniro). It becomes evident quite quickly in the story that Jonathan is a bit delusional. He is more of a drinker than a writer, but the booze gives him a cloudy arrogance that has him thinking that he is a great writer that simply hasn't released his masterpiece yet. One of the first things we hear from him is "There were three great American writers. Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, and me... John Flynn". After he says this we see him driving out of parking garage in his taxi cab, his real day job. Nick didn't have a relationship with his father at all, raised solely by his mother Jody (Julianne Moore). Moore is sort of the perfect person for the role, the tired woman who is trying desperately to keep it together for her son. Nick describes his early years as being guided by lots of boyfriends. Being Flynn has what could be considered one of the best shots of all time, certainly one of the best of the past 20 years. We see a panning camera where Nick is playing catch with one of Jody's boyfriends, and as the camera pans back and forth each time it's a different boyfriend. Finally it shows his biological father John, but when Nick goes to throw the ball he isn't there on the other side and the ball goes rolling into the street. Powerful. The film is an example of how far Deniro has come as an actor. In 1976 Deniro drove a taxi cab in Scorcese's masterpiece Taxi Driver. His Travis Bickle character was more of a numb sociopath. Here Deniro is able to channel more of a narcissistic, delusional, stubborn alcoholic that is quite different than the role he filled 36 years prior. Still detached, but more conversant.

It's a story of finding your place in the world while trying to avoid the mistakes of your predecessors. A struggle of separating yourself from your parents, trying to see yourself as a unique person. We do see an arch in Nick's character, and after enduring some time in some pretty heavy drama, you really need some form of redemption. One of the frustrating qualities of John's character is his absolute defiance to break down. His thick stubborn personality never breaks, and it almost feels like if it cracked a little it would have added some more substance to the story. Interesting to think about whether this was a deliberate thing, part of the actual Flynn family narrative or whether Deniro's decision to bring that armored performance to his Jonathan role.

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