'Being Flynn': Taking In A Prodigal Father

Mar 2, 2012

Robert De Niro's last outing with director Paul Weitz was less than auspicious: The comedy Little Fockers received terrible reviews. Being Flynn, their second collaboration, is a more serious affair about the estranged relationship between a fractious father and his son.

De Niro plays Jonathan Flynn, a blowhard of a dad who spent his son Nick's childhood behind bars for bank robbery or otherwise absent. Nick grows up with a supportive, adoring mother played by Julianne Moore, but his father's letters from prison — in which he claims to be close to finishing a prize-worthy novel — still pique Nick's interest.

In the film's present, 20something Nick (Paul Dano) writes poetry and works at a homeless shelter while figuring out what to do with his life. When his father gets in touch after almost two decades, claiming an emergency, Nick visits him, where he's being thrown out of his apartment.

Although Jonathan claims to be a sought-after houseguest for being such "an excellent raconteur," his son can see he needs help. Things spiral down from there in a manner that would seem way too pat if Being Flynn weren't based on the celebrated memoir Another Bulls- - - Night in Suck City, and populated by performers whose very acting styles practically scream "dysfunction."

Dano gives Nick the watery eyes and hesitant smile of a struggling milquetoast, while De Niro plays his taxi-driving father as pure ham — alcoholic, boisterous, delusional. It's clear why Nick would be wary of this dad whose version of the past doesn't quite jibe with his own. When he describes his wife's death, for instance, Jonathan calls it a tragic accident, rather than the more decisive act she left a note for.

Writer-director Weitz finds grace notes everywhere, plunging headlong into a scarily persuasive skid row, then seeking more stable ground for his characters. His script makes much of parallels — two aspiring writers, one working in a homeless shelter, the other freshly homeless. Three family members: a mother, father and son who face their demons by respectively fighting them, embracing them and learning to live with them.

And then there's the simple fact of De Niro, playing a delusional taxi driver. It's easy to imagine Being Flynn's story turning precious in the wrong hands, but Weitz and his cast spin it just right — as a narrative that is both emotionally real, and just writerly enough to suit its leading men.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Robert De Niro last worked with director Paul Weitz on the comedy "Little Fockers," a sequel to "Meet the Parents." It wasn't an auspicious pairing - the reviews were less than kind. But it did lead them to a far more serious film about a fractious father and son. "Being Flynn" opened yesterday, and NPR's Bob Mondello has our review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Nick Flynn grew up with a supportive, adoring mom and an absent blowhard of a dad. So in whose footsteps do you suppose he'll decide to follow?

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEING FLYNN")

LIAM BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) I think I want to be a writer.

JULIANNE MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Yeah?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Dad's a writer, right?

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Ha. What makes you think that?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Because of right here. It says: work on my novel. It's going well. I shall soon win the Nobel Prize for both storytelling and poetry. No fear.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) You know what that letter was written from?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Prison?

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Mm-hmm.

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Why is he in prison again?

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) He stole thousands and thousands of dollars. You know how much of that we've seen?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Zero.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Zilch.

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Zippo.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Nothing.

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Nada.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Niente.

MONDELLO: How to nurture a budding wordsmith. This is a flashback from Nick's current situation. Played by Paul Dano as a 20-something, Nick now writes poetry and works in a homeless shelter while figuring out what to do with his life. So he's startled when his father gets in touch after almost two decades, claiming an emergency. Turns out he's being thrown out of his apartment. What will he do?

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEING FLYNN")

ROBERT DE NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) I'm a sought-after houseguest. You know why?

PAUL DANO: (as Nick Flynn) No.

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Because I am an excellent raconteur. Well, until I find a new place, I have to put all my things in storage.

MONDELLO: Things will spiral down from there in a manner that would seem way too pat if "Being Flynn" weren't based on a celebrated memoir and populated by performers whose very acting styles practically scream dysfunction. Paul Dano gives Nick the watery eyes and hesitant smile of a struggling milquetoast, while Robert De Niro plays his taxi-driving father as pure ham - alcoholic, boisterous, delusional. You can see why Nick would be wary of this dad whose version of the past doesn't quite jibe with his own. Here's dad, for instance, on his ex-wife's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEING FLYNN")

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Such a tragic accident.

DANO: (as Nick Flynn) What accident?

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) What accident? The accident that cut her life short.

DANO: (as Nick Flynn) Wasn't an accident. She left a note.

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Did it mention me?

DANO: (as Nick Flynn) No.

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Not much of a letter writer, your mother.

MONDELLO: Writer-director Paul Weitz finds grace notes everywhere as he plunges headlong into a scarily persuasive skid row and then seeks more stable ground for his characters. His script makes much of parallels - two aspiring writers, one working in a homeless shelter, the other freshly homeless. Three family members: a mother, father and son who face their demons by respectively fighting them, embracing them and learning to live with them.

And then there's the simple fact of De Niro, playing a delusional taxi driver. It's easy to imagine "Being Flynn's" story turning precious in the wrong hands, but Weitz and his cast spin it just right - as a narrative that is both emotionally real and just writerly enough to suit its leading men. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.