Monday, March 12, 2012

Being Flynn [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Being Flynn (screenplay written and directed by Paul Weitz based on the book entitled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn) is probably one of the better serious movies to be released in this "off season" immediately following this year's Oscars.

The film's about a very difficult father-son relationship.  Jonathan Flynn (played by Robert De Niro) is an aging father, who's spent most of his adult life in prison (as a petty and apparently not particularly good con-artist, forging checks, etc).  However as is often the case despite the massive evidence to the contrary, he's convinced that he's actually a great man, in his case a great writer just about to be discovered.  Indeed, the film begins with Jonathan Flynn introducing himself to the audience declaring in voice-over that "there have been only three truly great American writers Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and myself, Jonathan Flynn."  As he waxes eloquent about his importance, he enters the parking garage, punches-in, gets into his taxi and begins his shift ...

A second voice-over then begins, that of his son, Nick Flynn (played by Paul Dano) who concurs that this story is indeed about his father Jonathan Flynn, except that Jonathan isn't really the one telling it, Nick is.  Nick then proceeds to re-introduce his father as having been largely absent from his life -- because Jonathan had been in prison during most of Nick's childhood.

We then see a flashback with Nick as a child (played by Liam Broggy) reading a letter from his dad already talking about how great a writer he is and that Nick, being his son, would probably inherit some of that gift.  For a few moments impressed, his mother Jody Flynn (played by Julianne Moore) quickly sets him straight.  "You know where that letter came from?  Prison!  Great writer?  Ha! He's in prison for writing forged checks."

Most of Nick's childhood is marked then by repeated disappointments at the hands of both of his parents, and finally himself.  In his later teens, Nick's mother killed herself.  As if often the case in situations such as these, Nick can not but partly blame himself.  Therefore, it's not entirely surprising that when we meet Nick he's something of a listless loser in his 20s, unemployed and kicked out of his girlfriend's apartment after she finds that he's been using the place to sleep with random women while she was at work.

Nick crashes in a dive with two similarly troubled roommates who take him because, well, they need someone else to split the rent with.  Through these room-mates however he somewhat randomly meets Denise (played by Olivia Thirlby) a friend of theirs who works at the nearby Harbor Light Inn, a large homeless shelter.  With no other ready prospects, he decides to go there to see if he could get a job as well.  The shelter's manager, Carlos (played by Eddie Rouse) who had story of his own was initially unimpressed with Nick's explanation of why he'd want to work with the homeless (basically he didn't have one) but decides to hire him anyway.

In the meantime, Jonathan's life, unravels as well.  Yes, when we had met him, he was gainfully employed -- as a taxi driver.  This had allowed him to afford a place to live -- an apartment in a somewhat seedy part of town -- but at least it was a roof over his head.  Remember however that Jonathan had some delusions of grandeur.  He's supposed to be a great writer.  So he gets upset "at the noise" made by some of the other tenants in his building.  As a result, when he inevitably overreacts one time, he gets evicted from his apartment.  That's when he makes his first contact _in years_ with Nick asking him to help him move his stuff "into storage" while he finds a more permanent place to live.  Nick, surprised, helps.  But of course Jonathan's slide is just starting.  A few weeks later, he's lost his taxi job and sometime after that he ends up at the homeless shelter where Nick is working.  Much ensues ...

It's not an easy time for either of the two.  Yet in the haze of more or less obvious borderline mental illness on the part of the father (again he continues to maintain that he's a great writer just about to become famous), he does actually help the son: The son eventually shares with him the circumstances of his mother's (Jonathan's estranged wife's) death.  And in _one moment_ of lucidness, the father tells the son: "I may have made you (a favorite saying of his throughout the movie).  You're mother may have made you.  But we are not you.  So I absolve you (of _our_ sins)."  And it is enough, the son's life changes... as actually does the father's.

Great movie.

One complaint.  There is one very random anti-Christian line of dialogue in the movie that certainly stuck with me until now.  Describing the people working in the homeless shelter, Nick rattles through stereotypical dismissals of everyone there.  Regarding "the religious types" he gives an example of a young woman there who (in exaggerated fashion) declares to the audience: "I'm here because I want to act as Jesus did" then continuing under her breath "and also because I hate my rich parents."

To be fair, Nick dismisses the motivations of just about everybody else as well.  And arguably this dismissal of the motivations of everybody else working in the shelter was symptomatic of Nick's own issues at the time when he began working there.  As much as he would have hated to admit it, he was all too much "like his dad" ... who was also more or less obviously dismissive of the people around him (he was a "genius writer" afterall...).

Still, I didn't like the anti-Christian dismal because my own experience has been that it's not true (or perhaps stops being true).  I also did the helping at the homeless shelter "thing" (if one wanted to call it that) in my 20s. Further I too had a mother who died early (of cancer) and I too was angry at the time at my dad who (even to his surprise) "came into some money" some time afterwards.  Still, I'm 20-years over all that (long since made peace with my dad) and for the last 10 years, I have been taking my parish's Confirmation and high school kids to a soup kitchen here on a regular (4x a year, whenever there's a 5th Sunday) basis and both the teens and the parents love going.   We also go and (try to) sing twice a year at a nursing home (around Halloween and Christmas).  We decorate cookies for a hospice around Christmas time.  And we've written both our troops and on behalf of political prisoners abroad.  Finally, in recent years, we've blessed animals on St. Francis' Feast Day and even done a few gardening days around the Church with the teens.  And everybody gets it.  This is what Jesus would want us to do. 

So perhaps a part of my early motivation in my "concern for the weak" would have been some anger and pain.  But that pain and anger had long since dissipated.  And what's left is a lot of young people having a chance to have some good memories as they grow-up of helping "the least among us" (Mt 25:40).

So I didn't particularly like the comment made in the film about the Christian worker there at the homeless shelter, though I do understand that the character dissing her (and the others) at the time was in a very bad place himself.  We can say stupid things when we are down ...

Still, Nick grew (though we never know if he changed his opinions of the people who worked around him as he himself).  And in any case so can we ...

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