Nick Flynn is the central character in director Paul Weitz’s (About a Boy, American Pie) latest film, entitled Being Flynn. He’s also the real-life author of the memoir that was adapted by Weitz for the screen, and in the film he is portrayed by Paul Dano (Cowboys and Aliens, There Will Be Blood). Nick is a young adult who finds himself looking for a new place to live and for a new job. The former because of his own behavior, the latter because he hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to be when he finally decides he is a grown-up.
Nick hasn’t seen his father, Jonathan Flynn (Robert DeNiro, whose credits speak for themselves) in 18 years. Jonathan is an ex-convict, taxi-driver, alcoholic who is convinced there have been three great American writers. Mark Twain, J.D. Salinder and Jonathan Flynn, although his masterpiece manuscript has never been published. But he apparently submitted something to a publisher once, because he carries the rejection letter it generated around as proof of his talent (whoever wrote it said somthing nice about his writing).
Jonathan is forced to call Nick for assistance when he manages to get himself evicted from his apartment. Nick is useful because he owns a pickup and has friends who will help him put his father’s belongings into storage, while Jonathan searches for a place to stay. Turned down by everyone he knows who hasn’t fled Boston yet, Jonathan begins renting his taxi 24/7 and sleeping in it at night. But even that falls apart thanks to his mixing his drinking with driving the taxi and soon he is sans license and place to sleep at night.
Meanwhile, Nick has hooked up with Denise (Olivia Thrilby, Juno) who is also a soul in search of herself. Denise happens to work at a homeless shelter and she recommends Nick seek employment there. Not because he has any particular talents or skills they are in search of, but because she thinks it would be good for him. Nick takes her advice and after an interesting interview with “The Captain” (Wes Studi) who runs the place, he’s added to the list of fill-in employees. Of course, he’s called to fill-in the same night and seems to begin working fulltime almost immediately.
Nick is exposed to a side of life he hasn’t seen before and his introduction is not without bumps, bruises and life-lessons along the way. But those experiences pale in comparison to what happens when Jonathan shows up at the same homeless shelter in search of a place to stay. Jonathan’s stay at the shelter, and how he and Nick deal with each other turns into a gritty, interesting story that is painful to watch at times. Who will sink and who will survive remains to be determined, particularly as we learn more about Nick’s mother “Jody” (Julianne Moore) and the hows and whys of her death.
DeNiro’s character of Jonathan is unidimensional and as a result he isn’t really able to display any of his immense talent. Conversely, Dano, who has not been brilliant in his prior works, shines here. He shows us Nick’s flaws and strengths with an understated style. Weitz’s adaptation is excellent.