Zimbio Review - 'Being Flynn'

Actors Olivia Thirlby and Paul Dano attend the after party following the screening of "Being Flynn" at the Pulqueria on March 1, 2012 in New York City. (February 29, 2012 - Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images North America)

 The Bottom Line
Should you see it?


De Niro comes up short again with an unlikable performance in a film that has potential but never realizes it.
As we wait for Robert De Niro to surface from the storm of schlocky comedies and action films that has drowned his iconic career, we will tolerate a film like Being Flynn with abject subjectivity. On the surface, De Niro's role looks somewhat juicy. A homeless ingrate, completely self-obsessed, is reunited with his estranged son. Well, what happens when there's nothing to like about either of them?

Based on Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Being Flynn is an antiseptic adaptation. The script was adapted by Flynn himself, along with director Paul Weitz, but the writing team managed to flush any of the charisma of its source material and consequently has produced a lackluster film.

Changing the setting from Boston to New York City, Being Flynn opens with narration where Jonathan Flynn (De Niro) tells us he is one of the three greatest writers of all-time along with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. The man is a curmudgeon, writing letters to his abandoned son while living in a one room shack in a dilapidated high rise. Flynn screams at his neighbors to shut up and eventually attacks them, leading to his eviction. He lives in his taxi cab until he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes. This opening sequence tells us why the aged Flynn is now homeless, but does little to endear him to us. The man is a certified asshole and a totally unsympathetic character.

Enter Nick Flynn (Paul Dano), Jonathan's estranged son. Now in his mid-twenties, Nick is unemployed and without much hope for the future. He is dumped by a girlfriend and finds shelter with strange roommates in a city loft that was once a strip club. Nick was raised by his mother (Julianne Moore) but she killed herself when Nick was in his teens and the young man has been alone since. All he knows of his father is what he reads in the letters the old man used to send him.

Dano plays Nick with a deluded kind of naivete that plays well enough. Of course, I may just be mesmerized by the moon-faced boy. It's impossible not to want to squeeze those cheeks! Nevertheless, Nick is someone we can identify with. His pathetic upbringing and sad life are certainly not his fault. There must be someone to blame.

Olivia Thirlby shows up as Denise, a pixie-hairdoed New York girl who works at a homeless shelter and finds Nick a job. It's at this point in the novel the story really finds wings. Flynn's descriptions of the duties of a intro-level NYC homeless shelter employee are at once disgusting, hilarious, and sad. The film version of the same events loses much in the translation. The cast of characters at the shelter are ornaments. The humanity within the novel is lost and the film provides us with all the right people looking exactly how you'd imagine. Nobody from the shelter provides any kind of supporting help, especially not the underused Lily Taylor (Flynn's wife) who has about three lines and nothing to say.

It's at the shelter, the reunion happens. Eventually Nick's father shows up asking for a room. Nick is appalled and considers quitting. He never knew where his father was or what the old man was doing but he never expected this. Forced to face his father, and his past, every day at work, Nick and Jonathan get to know each other.

We know Being Flynn wants us to think Jonathan is a charismatic guy who is certianly much smarter than he appears. Why are the homeless in movies always supposed to be the source of some kind of wisdom? The homeless people I see urinate in the street and scream obscenities at statues.

De Niro does not lend anything remotely resembling charisma to Jonathan's character. There really isn't much to work with in the script and De Niro yelling and screaming his lines every ten minutes definitely doesn't help. The longer the movie went, the more I wanted Jonathan to just die.

While Being Flynn doesn't provide anything truly special in the way of likable characters or narrative resolution, it is probably the best film about homelessness since The Fisher King, although the pool is rather shallow. This genre is swamped with melodrama (The Pursuit of Happyness, The Soloist) and filled with people who need to be "rescued." Weitz and Flynn aren't interested in a "homeless makeover," thank God. Their film attempts to get under the surface of a complex relationship. Unfortunately, there's just not enough reason to care.

See photos of Robert De Niro:
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
  • Robert De Niro in 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press Room
Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.