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.
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.
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).
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