I hate it when movies tell me what to feel. Let me clarify that statement -- I hate it when movies tell me what to feel, except when I wind up feeling something in spite of hating the movie for telling me what to feel. So I hate Being Flynn for pushing me as hard as it did, but it beats me because I allowed myself to be pushed.
Based on Nick Flynn's memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, it's the story of homeless, mentally ill ex-con Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro) and his emotionally adrift son Nick (Paul Dano). Jonathan is a delusional, self-appointed writer of The Great American Novel and he composes his "classic" book in his head, rambling on about it endlessly in the odd moments when he's not busy drunkenly barking racist epithets. After Nick's mother (Julianne Moore, in flashback) commits suicide, the young man experiments with aimlessness, addiction and, despite his antipathy for everything his father stands for, his own career as a writer of introspective poetry. When Jonathan shows up at the homeless shelter where Nick works, the two engage in some extended reckoning. It begins angrily and awkwardly enough, but you know where this is going.
And if you're aware of screenwriter-director Paul Weitz's history, then you'll realize that it's is also About a Boy territory, only woeful and without the winning, lighthearted presence of Hugh Grant. And it's the kind of emotionally bossy indie film that, by virtue of its downbeat, downscale atmosphere, pretends its got something less obvious to tell you than that people need love and that you should be nice to your parents even if they're terrible. But it doesn't. It's not nearly as restrained or hands-off as its cast clearly wishes it could be, even if Dano and De Niro do their best to strip down the script's master plan. And that's going to be the sticking point for any audience member not in the mood to sit in on some forced father-n-son reunioning.
I was in the mood. I can't really say why and I don't have a rational excuse. Sometimes that's just how it goes. You think you're tougher than the movie. You can see what it's trying to do. You've got its number. And then it gets you anyway because it's just this side of intelligent or sincere or straight-up arm-twisty enough to breach your wall of resistance and drop a bomb in your Death Star. It's the reason guys watch Field of Dreams and cry when nobody else is looking. You know better but it happens all the same. Oh well.