Photo Courtesy of BEING FLYNN
A writer once said, “we make up stories to make sense of our lives.” That writer was Nick Flynn, one half of the father-son duo at the center of the new feature “Being Flynn,” based on his 2004 memoir, “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.”
Written and directed by Paul Weitz (“About A Boy”) the film chronicles a difficult period of time in the lives of the Flynn men, as 28-year-old Nick (Paul Dano, “Little Miss Sunshine”) seeks meaning and value in life, while his aging father Jonathan (Robert De Niro, “Meet the Parents”), does his best to survive in the face of imminent downfall. For an aimless and confused Nick, a sense of purpose is finally discovered at the Harbor Street Inn, a local homeless shelter where he begins working, and for a while he seems to have found his footing. That is until his estranged father shows up among the homeless seeking a bed.
Having never known his father, this encounter unearths memories of a painful and troubled childhood, which reveals why Nick has grown into such a conflicted, addiction-prone man. Family had never been a place of comfort or relief for Nick, and so the arrival of his father also triggers the return of his demons, leaving him in a drug and alcohol-fueled stupor.
Occurring simultaneously is another narrative dictated by Jonathan Flynn, Nick’s megalomaniacal father. As a writer is prone to do, he offers quite the fascinating life story, yet one starkly in contrast with his current state of being. It is in finding each other that these two men must face themselves as flawed, failed, and complicated figures and reconcile a lifetime’s worth of inner and outer turmoil.
Though a rather somber tale of overcoming tremendous struggles and redemption, what is striking about “Being Flynn” are the performances delivered by Dano and De Niro. Dano, being quite the method actor, captures the brooding instability of Nick to a tee; not to mention he also skirts an interesting and new acting middle ground in his portrayal, somewhere between the quaint minimalism of his performance in “Little Miss Sunshine” and the passionate fervor of his turn in “There Will Be Blood.” However the runaway performance is delivered by De Niro, whose larger-than-life character allows him to undergo a great dramatic catharsis in his grandiose performance; particular scenes take on an almost Shakespearean quality as he delivers over the top and emotionally-wrought monologues. And though the material is serious, one can safely infer that these actors had fun deep diving into the psyches of these men.
Weitz also takes on an interesting approach in adapting this memoir to the big screen, eschewing linearity in favor of a more engaging storytelling style, which leads to great metaphorical scenes such as a montage of young Nick playing catch with an ever changing stream of men, indicating not only the passing of time but his mother’s insecurity and need for a constant male stand-in for his father. It is due to such efforts that the film somewhat succeeds in unfolding in a manner true to the memoir’s original text.
Ultimately, “Being Flynn” is a dynamic, nuanced and multilayered literary tale; and though it offers a worthwhile exploration of certain quintessential themes such as identity, belief and survival, it does not translate into a completely lucid on-screen meditation.