Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Being Flynn

From Father To Son

Based on the memoirs of poet Nick Flynn entitled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Being Flynn works thanks to the performances put in by Robert De Niro and Paul Dano, playing the father and son Jonathan and Nick Flynn, estranged for many years no thanks to Jonathan's life of a con artist catching up with him, communicating with his son through letters for the most parts of his life, never meeting up. Growing up alone with his mom (Julianne Moore), one might think this is yet another dysfunctional family story, but Nick has a lot more to tell, baring his soul to recount the painful absence and hard fought reaching out to the only close relative he's got, and this journey is one that reminds us on blood being thicker than water, or alcohol for that matter here.

Under the direction of Paul Weisz, whose filmography included vulgar flicks like American Pie and Little Fockers, which of course also starred De Niro, it was great that this film gets more closely aligned with his other narratively powerful films like About a Boy and In Good Company. While the book by Nick Flynn had a whole host of styles adopted in its various chapters, Weisz tried to capture the same essence in adopting different points of views in this film, as well as to lightly touch it with some comedy. But what it had set its sights on, is to bring out the pain of having to not grow up with a dad present and to be brought up by a single mom, and the struggles one has to experience as an aimless drifter until something clicked, and one puts the foot down to embark on a determined change of lifestyle.

There were elements that I enjoyed in this film, one of which is the parallels drawn between the father and son's lives, both seemingly getting from bad to worse with nary a roof over their heads, and the dependence on substance abuse as a vice, be it the bottle or drugs, in the hope that these will help alleviate the severe discomfort brought on by not being able to have ambitions developed and met. Like father, like son, each of them dreams of making it big one day as a successful writer, but like the chip off the old block, this potential rarely got realized when their lives continue to be at the doldrums.

It provides an inspiration to those of us who deem it impossible to pursue our dreams for a variety of reasons, and while it delivers that awkward feeling of having to reconnect with someone related to by blood, especially if that's a mom or a dad, it pushes anyone caught in similar dilemmas into the same direction of reconciliation, for bygones to be bygones, and that there's nothing more powerful than having to rediscover relations that once was, or even never had begun. Weisz adopted a rather fractured narrative, that tells of the present day with Nick and Jonathan's crossing of paths when the latter gets kicked out of his apartment, and having to live on and off in the homeless shelter his son volunteers in, and interspersed that with Nick's memories of the days being brought up by mom through a series of flashbacks, seen through a relatively innocent prism of a young boy growing up in harsh times.

Subplots came and went without much fanfare, such as Nick's on-off romantic relationship with Denise (Olivia Thirlby), a co-worker at the shelter, and we don't really get to know the other co-workers with any depth other than they each come with issues but are volunteering time at the shelter. But there are moments that sneak in, to make you pause and take stock about whether similar situations with the homeless do exist in our own country, and wonder just what is being done, by others as well as ourselves, in contributing to make some change for the better, whether donation in terms of time, or in kind. And not to mention how bullies often target those without support that will make one seethe at the senseless violence dished out.

Robert De Niro continues to prove to be a dramatic tour de force in putting up another fine performance as the cranky, and what I thought to be proud, man who thinks rather highly of his non-existent talent, and subtly shows how Jonathan is actually very proud of the son he should have made contact with many years ago. Paul Dano may have perfected playing laid back characters, but perhaps having to act opposite a veteran such as De Niro forced him to up his game as well, resulting in a natural chemistry between the two that carried the film from start to end. Recommended, with an eclectic soundtrack serving as a bonus.

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