Being Flynn




By Gary Murray


Starring Robert DeNiro, Julianne Moore, Paul Dano and Olivia Thirlby


Written and directed by Paul Weitz


Running time 1 hr 26 min


MPAA Rating R


Selig Film Rating Matinee


Paul Weitz is best known for his film About a Boy the big hit from 2002.  The film won rave notices and was on some critics best of lists.  It is a movie that vaulted the American Pie writer into a different level in Hollywood.  The writer/director newest work is a drama about family and writers and is called Being Flynn

The film opens with a quote where Jonathan Flynn (Robert DeNiro) says that there have only been three great American writers—Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and himself Jonathan Flynn.  It sets up the megalomaniacal nature of our main character, a cab driver in shades of Taxi Driver.  The man has been working on the great American novel his entire life.  He has a grown son Nick (Paul Dano) from his deceased wife Jody (Julianne Moore). 

Nick is a writer himself but he feels that he is not a successful person.  He has not seen his father Jonathan in 18 years.  Nick moves into an abandoned strip joint with two others and soon makes friends with Denise (Olivia Thirlby) who works at Harbor House, a homeless shelter.  Soon Nick takes a job at the shelter.

Jonathan lives in a little apartment with loud rocking neighbors.  After a confrontation, the man loses his hovel of a dwelling.  Then, he loses his cab license.  Almost immediately, the Jonathan becomes homeless and begins to come to the Harbor House to seek shelter. 

The two men become confrontational with each other.  All the bitterness of Nick’s life becomes the focal point in his hatred of Jonathan. The young man has some major blame issues with his father, a man he has not seen in almost two decades.  The film travels down a well-worn path of culpability and redemption. 


At times, the film becomes a bit of a cliché.  The idea of the tortured writer has been done to death and there are no new revelations in Being Flynn.  Also, the idea of the son and father being at odds over the mutual love of the female in their shared lives is as old as Oedipus himself.   This film travels down the same plot points that hundreds of more successful stories have trod.


While I agree that Mark Twain is great writer, probably the greatest writer ever created in America, J.D. Salinger is much more of a one hit wonder.  I would argue that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemmingway were all much more important American authors than Salinger.  This entire exercise becomes nitpicking.  Jonathan Flynn is a crazy person and one cannot logically argue with the insane.  The depth of his madness is as deep as it is wide. 


DeNiro once again shows that he is ‘the man’ when it comes to acting.  This is a strong performance in a career that has given the world gigantic characters.  Jonathan Flynn is not in the leagues of Taxi Driver or Raging Bull but is a character interesting in both quirks and ticks.  The overt racism is sad and laughable almost in an Archie Bunker style of drama.  DeNiro is such a pro that he can take such a stock character and turn it into magic. It is a slow descent into madness that fuels the writing process.   


Paul Dano does a workman job as Nick but he is overmanned against DeNiro.  His character is the lynchpin of the work but is also the weakest link.  It may be a fault of frail writing or clichéd idea but the tortured soul of our young poet has been beaten to death.  One expects something a bit fresher from director Paul Weitz.


Julianne Moore is used in much more of a cameo but she still manages to give a full and well rounded character.  She could read the phone book and still be captivating on screen.  This is one of those small roles that keep her established independent credentials in full check.   


Young Olivia Thirlby is the revelation of the work.  She is basically an unknown performer who is up against some heavy hitters and holds her own in scene after scene.  She has some demons of her own in the story and delivers her reading with a certain broken charm. 


Being Flynn is much more of an interesting idea than a flushed out film.  Like life, parts are stunning and parts are boring.  It is very much an art house flick that will appeal to a very narrow audience. 


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