A tough sell, but very rewarding for fans of the directors and stars. Being Flynn offers a rare glimpse into the goings-on of homeless shelters. Among other things, it’s the first movie Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) has been able to carry firmly on his shoulders. As a layabout writer struggling for inspiration, young Flynn takes a job at a Boston shelter. The key discovery, however, is that Robert DeNiro is continuing his resurrection with late-career triumphs (did you see “Stone?”) as elder Flynn, who thinks he’s beside Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger as the world’s greatest writer, although he’s just a delusional unpublished writer. Directed with gritty detail by Paul Weitz who switches gears from smart comedy (“About a Boy,” “In Good Company”).
It took courage to make this movie with this material, but by sticking to its roots (it’s based on Nick Flynn’s “Another Bull**** Night In Suck City”) and adhering to candid slumbers, it succeeds in holding your attention and getting you to invest care. Dano has mostly played grovelers before, but this time he’s playing a young man on the fringes striving for integrity. He helps his father Jonathan, who he hasn’t heard from in nearly twenty years, move out of his apartment after an eviction. Within a short while, Dad has succumbed after losing his taxi license, and comes in shivering off the streets looking for shelter.
Nick can only extend special treatment so far, but Jonathan thinks he’s better than the rest of his dorm mates. DeNiro, drawing upon the days of “Jacknife” (1989) or better yet “This Boy’s Life” (1993), does a helluva manic job shaking up the joint with his self-entitled belligerence. He’s there but he doesn’t need the place, he says, insisting he stays to gather up writing material. But the staff is so provoked by his rancor, they hold a meeting on whether to blackball him from the facility. Overwhelmed, Nick succumbs to the numbing powers of drug addiction to deal with his predicaments, yet a kick in the butt from a new girlfriend forces him to tackle immediate rehabilitation.
The shelter borders on being an insane asylum, only it permits for walk-ins to come and go. But to force someone out is a heartless endeavor. Nick is a good person to the core faced with the difficult situation of dealing with an impossible father who is all vitriol. Flashbacks go back to a sunnier childhood, relatively, with Nick raised by a single mom (played by Julianne Moore). The more the story reveals about the past, the more it explains the current heartburn. The performances are fearless.
86 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / FOOD FOR THOUGHT / DOWNHEARTED
Film Cousins: “Shoeshine” (1946, Italy); “Midnight Cowboy” (1969); “Dark Days” (2000); “A Better Life” (2011).