Muddled Being Flynn Bypasses God
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 13 Mar
DVD Release Date: July 10, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: March 9, 2012 (limited)
Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content, drug use, and brief nudity)
Run Time: 102 min.
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Wes Studi, Lili Taylor, Victor Rasuk, Eddie Rouse, Steve Cirbus
You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker with the sentiment: “Please be patient. God’s not finished with me yet.” It’s a nice idea, that sanctification is a lifelong process, and we all stumble along the way, dependent on God’s grace.
Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro (New Year's Eve) and Paul Dano (Cowboys & Aliens) and directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie), has a similar idea with its tagline: “We’re all works in progress.” But the film has no notion of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, which means it’s not very convincing as a story of human betterment and emotional healing. The film also fails as a work of adaptation. Based on Nick Flynn’s book Another Bull---t Night in Suck City, Being Flynn fails to coherently juggle its different character viewpoints, giving the storytelling a herky-jerky quality that keeps viewers from settling into the material and engaging the characters on a deep level.
Nick (Paul Dano) is a struggling writer with a fondness for alcohol but a difficulty in connecting with people. He’s unemployed, leaning on the goodwill of new roommates and a new girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby, No Strings Attached) to sustain his purposeless life. He’s never had much of a guiding light in his life: His father, Jonathan (Robert De Niro), was in prison for most of Nick’s childhood, and his mother (Julianne Moore, Crazy Stupid Love) held down multiple jobs to provide for Nick. Her parade of boyfriends never made much of a connection with Nick, who was left alone after his mother committed suicide.
If that doesn’t strike you as a pleasant-sounding story, just wait. It gets worse. Jonathan, who fancies himself a masterful writer just waiting to be discovered, drives a cab, sleeps with the occasional fare and acts on his worst impulses when things don’t go his way.
Jonathan is self-destructive, maybe mentally ill, and yet his motto is worth heeding: “We were put on this earth to help each other.” Why does he believe that? Where did he embrace that idea? He doesn’t seem to live it. But it’s something the aimless Nick needs to hear, and when Jonathan, evicted from his home, ends up at the homeless shelter where Nick has found work, the son has a chance to extend his father’s philosophy to the man who taught it to him.
Father and son don’t bond initially. Nick is put off by Jonathan’s derogatory view of drug users and homosexuals, and seeing Jonathan up close and personal brings the dawning of the realization that Nick is following in Jonathan’s footsteps. But Nick is also benefiting from his attempts to live out Jonathan’s motto. Nick’s work at a homeless shelter gives him a newfound perspective on life, forcing him to consider the misfortunes of others and how he might help those individuals.
But what about Nick? Who will help him with the voids in his life that have left him leaning on drugs and alcohol? As Jonathan alienates even the shelter staff, Nick is forced—with the help of his girlfriend—to face his own addictions and move through his hurt.
If that sounds like a redemptive storyline, beware. It’s not that the story isn’t redemptive, or healing—it’s just muddled. Being Flynn is all over the map in its approach to its story. Told mostly from Nick’s viewpoint, the film sometimes includes Jonathan’s point of view, with each character expressing themselves on screen as well as through voiceover narration. It’s not clear whose story we’re watching. Is it Nick’s? Jonathan’s? Jonathan’s through the voice and writing of Nick? Are we supposed to find Jonathan amusing, pathetic, or both? What about Nick?
Complex characters are to be applauded, but in this case, writer/director Paul Weitz has failed to give us enough of an idea about what makes Nick tick. De Niro has a few memorable moments as Jonathan, but it’s the supporting players, such as girlfriend Thirlby and shelter worker Wes Studi (Avatar), who make the strongest impression.
In the end, there’s not much to take away from the story, or the experience of watching it. We don’t much care about what’s going to become of these characters, and we’re not sure whether these “works of progress” are actually regressing instead.
Like I said, it’s all a bit muddled. Why bother with Being Flynn?
- Language/Profanity: Filled with misuse of the Lord’s name; numerous “f” words; sexual and racial epithets; verbal reference to strip club; “a-s”; “s-it”; reference to oral sex; “t-t".
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking among several characters throughout the film; marijuana and cocaine use; Nick’s roommate says he sells marijuana; numerous characters are current or former drug addicts.
- Sex/Nudity: Jonathan is shown having sex with one of his cab customers; photos of strippers; Nick has sex with Denise, even as she says she isn’t interested in a relationship; Jonathan stands up in a bathtub, covered in bubble bath; male rear and side nudity; a man tells a woman to take her clothes off and start without him; a man picks lice off his bare upper body; Nick and Denise take each others clothes off, and we see Denise’s panties; Jonathan is shown wrapped in a towel.
- Violence/Crime: Nick head-butts a mirror; an apartment is said to be run by the mafia; Jonathan beats on the door of an apartment with a club, then enters forcibly and starts hitting people; inside; Nick’s mom has committed suicide earlier in life, and in a flashback we see her take pills and then see her as Nick discovers her body sprawled on a bed; Jonathan has been in prison; Nick bandages a head wound; man threatened with being thrown from an upper level of a parking garage
- Marriage: Nick’s mom goes through a series of boyfriends during Nick’s childhood.
Religion/Morality: None, although Nick adopts Jonathan’s moral code, which he states as, “We were put on this earth to help people”; a woman at the homeless shelter says she works there because she wants to model Christ; a character says, “Destiny has brought us together for one fleeting moment. Let’s not spit in its eye”; Jonathan says to Nick, “I absolve you” and makes the sign of the cross.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.