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Being Flynn

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Being Flynn

Paul Dano and Robert Deniro in 'Being Flynn

Focus Features
In the opening scenes of Being Flynn, we follow Robert DeNiro as he begins his shift as a taxi driver, and you can’t help but think of Travis Bickle, and wonder-- is this going to be Taxi Driver: 36 Years Later; Travis: The Later Years? But no, it’s not. Not completely, anyhow. What both films have in common is their depiction of the one-step-at-a-time fall of a man ensnared by madness: one with grand delusions about himself and his place in the world, and the descent into becoming an invisible man.
DeNiro’s Jonathan Flynn is a failed writer of the highest order -- he refers to himself as one of the three greatest American writers, along with Salinger and Twain. However, as far as we know, nothing he’s written has ever seen publication. What Jonathan has accomplished is abandonment of his wife and child, time in prison, and losing everyone and every thing he ever had.

Adapted from Nick Flynn’s acclaimed 2004 autobiography Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City (the city that sucks being Boston), Being Flynn is narrated by DeNiro’s Jonathan-- an often eloquent, haughty “raconteur,” narcissistically blind and raging-- and it takes an actor of DeNiro’s caliber to pull it off without condescension or mockery.

But there is also a second narrator-- Jonathan’s estranged son Nick (a gangly, leather-clad, angst-ridden Paul Dano). An aspiring writer in his twenties, Nick struggles with drug abuse, poverty, aimlessness, and unemployment, haunted by memories of his mother’s death and his father’s neglect.

When Nick finally finds employment at a homeless shelter, it seems things may be looking up for him.

Meanwhile in another part of the city, Jonathan assaults a neighbor, is evicted from his apartment, starts living out of his cab, crashes the cab, loses his hack license, and then is forced onto the street. With that come all the violence and vulnerability that the territory brings.

When Jonathan comes to a homeless shelter in search of a room, father and son meet for the first time in 18 years.

The sparks fly, of course. Nick spirals further downward. Jonathan spirals further downward. Memories of the Nick’s mother (Julianne Moore) are revealed. Nick’s budding relationship with a female co-worker (Olivia Thirlby) suffers. Wounds open. Wounds close. Wounds reopen.

Two workers at the shelter who’ve survived the fall themselves (Lili Taylor and Wes Studi) act as a Greek chorus of commentary on self-hatred, finding strength, and methods of survival.

Slowly, the father and son separate, dueling narrations come together into one, with the notion that one has to fall into the lowest depths in order to find the stairway that leads one back into the light.

Being Flynn isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a heartbreaking one. The step by step realities of the descent into, and stagnation within, homelessness are outlined in detail. It’s not a pretty world to enter into, but one that needs to be seen.

Ultimately, this is DeNiro’s King Lear, returned back to the dark side after the Focker years. He howls into the cold wind of Boston’s mean winter, sometimes actually draped in a Shakespearean toga (in this case, a bed-sheet).

The sturm and drang may wrap up too neatly at the end, but the film's importance is as a visual document of the experience in an American city of that "last stop before the morgue."

Being Flynn 2012
Directed by Paul Weitz Music by Badly Drawn Boy With: Julianne Moore (Jody Flynn), Wes Studi (Captain), Lili Taylor (Joy), Olivia Thirlby (Denise)
Distributor: Focus Films
Release Date: March 1, 2012
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  5. Independent and World Films, Winter 2012
  6. Being Flynn - A Review of Paul Weitz's Being Flynn

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