A dumbed-down title from the memoir of its real-life author Nick Flynn turns out to be given unexpectedly rich treatment by the maker of not only Little Fockers, but In Good Company and About A Boy. Even if some its rougher text is cleaned up for wider cineaste viewership where its main thespians are likely contracted to scale wages where much is accomplished in a rather short running time.
Whereas the latter utilized Hugh Grant's nebbish charm in an affecting way, Paul Weitz's intimate Being Flynn makes fine use of some of the more untapped resources of an icon in Robert DeNiro (way up from New Year's Eve). This gradually absorbing dramedy also stars Paul Dano, as well as Olivia Thirlby and Julianne Moore.
Part of Weitz's flair for capturing the real Flynn (a co-scribe with the director and played by Dano of Cowboys and Aliens) is in the way delineated from opposing first-person narrative of how two generations of writers intersect through familial angst, as well as addiction and homelessness.
Trying to cope with the loss of his mother Jody (Moore of Crazy, Stupid, Love.), Nick finds his estranged writer father Jonathan (DeNiro also from last year's unremarkable remake Killer Elite) on the doorstep only to shut him out. But, after he becomes employed at a homeless shelter to become closer to Denise (Thirlby of The Darkest Hour) there is an unknown good samaritan in him that will come to a head when his desperate dad holes up at a place which seems to bring out the best in him.
Some may find the proceedings lethargic before Nick's entrance into the shelter and understanding of his new line of work, but after that a momentum develops as Dano and DeNiro sharply hone into the dramatic arc of their characters. Watching his dad's debilitation after a long stay leads Nick onto a destructive drug-addled path.
The filmmaking never belies an authentic feel for therapy sessions and the homeless milieu (especially in the film's centerpiece) with wild changes of Jonathan from wryness to borderline paranoid schizophrenic that leaves Nick in a difficult, darker position. The vacillating mood of a solid production is accentuated in the soundtrack, definitely expressed in flashbacks to his childhood when his mother was always working to provide for the family. Moore displays her usual grace and appeal in these passages, and Thirby (while maybe a little of a plot ploy) nicely cultivates a love interest who knows what's best for Nick though herself reluctant about the idea of commitment.
A personal story of generational discord and discovery engages in ways that wouldn't be realized given its literary antecedent if Weitz and Flynn couldn't communicate the honesty that Dano and DeNiro duel and delight over with certain understated and symbiotic aplomb. It's not the first time Dano has held his own next to a formidable, acclaimed performer, as he did so in There Will Be Blood (in a dual role) with the versatile, venerable Daniel Day-Lewis (who next will be doing Abraham Lincoln for Steven Spielberg). Here, the relationship of a son and his father transcends the pitfalls of the genre that accurately ambles onto higher ground, as what was long-standing and disturbing is emotionally grounded and resolved.