The first thing viewers should be aware of in watching "Being Flynn" is the movie's various layers of sanitation. It is an adaptation of the memoir, "Another Bulls Night in Suck City," tidied up into a much neater narrative.
"Being Flynn" centers on drugs, homelessness, and fractured father-and-son relationships. Yet, somehow, it's one of the safest, cleanest films to be released so far this year.
Reasons for such an approach to this difficult material lie with writer/director Paul Weitz, who has not crafted a great film since 2002's charmer, "About a Boy." While "Being Flynn" is certainly his best film since then, it is nothing masterful, by any means. It's a simple, character-driven drama that never becomes everything it could be but manages to reach enough of its potential to be a worthy watch.
Aside from an unwillingness to take risks, "Being Flynn" carries itself on interesting performances and even more interesting characters. It follows aspiring writer Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) and the reinsertion of his estranged father, Jonathan (Robert De Niro), into his life. The main focus is how they connect in a homeless shelter, where the former works and the latter becomes a regular visitor.
These actors' performances make "Being Flynn" quite watchable. Dano once again proves his worth as one of the more underrated actors of today. De Niro mildly amends for his last collaboration with Weitz — the detestable "Little Fockers."
While the legendary actor has been descending fast for quite some time, "Being Flynn" represents a momentary suspension in a career that has seemed disaster-bound for far too long. It's not a comeback role by any means. It is, however, the first De Niro performance I haven't cringed at in years.
The real highlights here are Dano and Julianne Moore, the latter appearing in flashbacks as his suicidal mother. There's a heartbreaking juxtaposition in one sequence between Dano's introduction to crack cocaine and the memories of his mother's suicide, executed quite poignantly for a movie where the heavy-handed material is often tiptoed around.
At its center, "Being Flynn" is a story of a father and a son who can never quite get their relationship where they would like it to be. It's a broken bond filled with a mutual lack of trust between two people who are essentially strangers. It's at its messiest when it accepts the realities of Nick and Jonathan's connection.
Unfortunately, it's a messiness that's wiped up too easily by Hollywood gloss. It would have been nice to see this story in the hands of someone else, someone brave enough to tackle the subject matter without sacrificing its grittiness.
"Being Flynn" is smooth when it should be rough. A few risks can go a long way, and one can only imagine where this movie would be had its makers actually decided to take some.