Based on the memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by playwright and poet Nick Flynn, the movie depicts Flynn's reunion with his estranged father, Jonathan, a homeless alcoholic who lives at a shelter where Nick was a social worker in the late 1980s.
The concept is original and the film is touching at times, but lacks energy or any real rhythm.
We follow Nick (Paul Dano) who is semi down and out and looking for a cheap place to live and any work he can find, finally meeting his father (DeNiro), a delusional alcoholic who roams the streets doing odd jobs like driving cab. The full circle Taxi Driver reference is right there, but it seems director Paul Weitz overlooks the significance.
Flynn cuts back and forth from present day to the past when Nick, as teenager, receives letters from his stranger of a father, a self-proclaimed poet and con man doing time in federal prison for embezzlement. We watch the toll this takes. His overworked mom (Julianne Moore) turns to suicide while Nick and his father (both addicts) land on the streets, running from themselves and finally to each other. Dad, prone to raving rants on race and sex, can't keep a grip on reality, as son struggles to be a writer but has too many inner demons. Alcoholism and madness run in the family.
Sounds promising, but this film is too aware of its cinematic premise. There are some really nice moments, but when an actual tone is achieved it quickly dissolves into the next scene.
Robert DeNiro can play a thug, a mob guy, a maniac and a dolt. What he cannot play is an intellectual. As a messy alcoholic artist, he struggles. He has the mess down, but comes off as angry rather than intelligent. It's a shame because a bunch of different actors come to mind that could have pulled this off like, say, Brian Cox or even... Walken. DeNiro lacks the ability to convey creative genius no matter how well he memorizes his lines. Fuming and simplistic, DeNiro never reaches the complexity of a character like this. A once great writer (in his mind) turned ultimate loser demands Shakespearean greatness. DeNiro just slugs it out.
Dano (There will be Blood) on the other hand, overtly passive aggressive, pulls off the troubled loser destined to follow in his father's footsteps. Julianne Moore is competent in her small role, but the reasoning behind her suicide is absolutely flawed.
What's wrong here is director Weitz. His other two directorial credits (Little Fockers and Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant) were unwatchable. With Weitz at the helm, it's understandable why DeNiro gets away with his performance. This movie feels like the director just lifted ideas and techniques from other filmmakers and couldn't quite find his voice, as opposed to the homages of DePalma and Tarantino.
Being Flynn is a cool story, but this film lacks the spunk to tell it. Throughout the film, Flynn senior is working on his great American novel titled Memoirs of a Moron that he believes will rival J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. While Memoirs of a Moron may not be a great name for a book, it's an apt title for this flick - another is Gone with the Wind, but I hear that one's already taken.
Starring Robert DeNiro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby
Directed by Paul Weitz