Being Flynn (2012)

Posted on April 23, 2014

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Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) lives in Boston and wants to be a writer. His life is a bit in flux, and he winds up sharing an apartment and working in a homeless shelter. He bumps into his estranged father, Jonathan (Robert DeNiro), who winds up living in the shelter. This opens up memories of Nick’s mom (Julianne Moore), and forces Nick to struggle with his own demons.

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Short Version

I felt like this was a compelling drama that avoided obvious tropes.

 

Long Version

I’m losing track of how many Paul Dano movies I have reviewed, much less seen. He was in:

  • There Will Be Blood
  • Gigantic
  • The Good Heart
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Taking Woodstock
  • Knight & Day
  • Cowboys & Aliens
  • Looper
  • The Extra Man

I think he’s a terrifically talented actor, although I’m a little concerned about him getting typecast as the anguished young man.

This movie wants us to see Nick as a human being. We see him make an effort to be good, and not know how to do that. We see him needy. We see him struggle with addictions.

Gradually we learn about his abandonment by Jonathan, and the slow crumbling of his mother.

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We also get to know Jonathan, and I have to say this was a great role for Robert DeNiro. Jonathan is not any of the characters that DeNiro has created in the past. He is not a cop or a wise guy.

Jonathan is a storyteller. He claims to be a writer, but mostly he’s just a liar. He’s also an alcoholic. Jonathan stumbles into Nick’s life, and then winds up living in the men’s shelter where Nick works. Jonathan’s descent into substance abuse mirrors Nick’s own, and is very jarring for Nick. Nick clearly, visibly, wonders if he is the writer he claims to be, or just another liar like his father.

What makes us like a character?

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Hollywood famously inserts “save the cat” moments to show us that a character is supposed to be a protagonist. One of the most famous occurs early in Sea of Love, when Al Pacino’s character lets a bad guy go rather than arrest him in front of the bad guy’s son. Another is in one of the Lethal Weapon movies. Mel Gibson’s character, Martin Riggs, finds a bomb in a car. When he realizes he can’t disarm the device, he tells his partner, played by Danny Glover, to “grab the cat” that’s on top of the car.

So selfless acts of kindness establish that we should like a character. There are more subtle tools at our disposal as storytellers, as well.

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We like people who are liked. Being Flynn uses this tool. It shows us Nick having to find a place to live, and work, and easily mixing with his new roommates and his co-workers. Hey, if everybody else likes and cares about this guy, we should too, right?

We like people who show weakness. This is a tricky one. We tend to distance ourselves from completely weak, helpless, needy, people. However, when a tough cop or firefighter is insecure about dating, we relate to that. Nick’s self-doubt, exacerbated by his father’s behavior, gets us on his side.

We like people who value family. Being Flynn uses this as well, by showing us Nick’s relationship with his mother.

We feel for people who find themselves in bad situations through no fault of their own. Nick does not invite Jonathan back into his life. He wants to get to know his father, but Jonathan is not what Nick expects.

We like characters who try to better themselves. We like people who do things, and strive to be better at doing them. In that sense, Nick’s attempts to write show that striving.

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Conclusion

I am a sucker for movies about guys and their relationships with their fathers. My biological father died when I was seven years old. My dad, the man who raised me, was about 40 when he married my mom. He’d never been around kids before, and there was a lot of learning on all sides. I was inclined to like Being Flynn right off.

With that disclosure, I still recommend the movie as being about characters, growth, and writing.

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Posted in: Movies