Being Flynn (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Being Flynn (2012)

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We should all agree it's time to shuttle the Weitz brothers (Paul, About A Boy, and Chris, New Moon) a little respect.  They don’t seem like they’ll ever be poised to take the vaunted ranks of the Coen’s, who have easily secured their place in the pantheon of film gods,  but they’re the perfect example of how there’s a bias against what’s mainstream bads versus the indie untouchables.

I went into Being Flynn set to hate it.  The preview is terrible, shuffling Paul Dano and Robert De Niro into a contrived situation all about writers being writers.  If there is one genre that is nearly automatic suicide, it’s that field of a film showcasing writers being writers.  They’re much more interesting when commenting on past ages with a twinge of nihilism, existential mid-life crises, or the thrill of sudden success.  So when I was sitting there half-chuckling at the dueling voice-overs between two generations of wannabe writers, I figured it would be a schlocky film about writers writing but failing to deliver any other goods.

So, this is one of those instances where anyone who is psychic and picked up on my pre-Flynn viewing can call me on it and force me to eat humble pie or my work shoes (depending on your own humble pie recipe).  I was surprised by just how many small things the film got right.  After a rough opening the scenes gained stronger footholds, less obvious soundtrack decisions were made, and I was content watching a younger generation heal from the legacy of an older one while realizing his time had passed.There is a lot wrong with Being Flynn.  It’s heavy-handed in its presentation, exemplified in the addictions of the younger generation versus the older one.  The older is alcohol-heavy with a twinge of jazz; the younger fueled by cocaine, weed, and The Butthole Surfers.  Points for remembering The Butthole Surfers exist, but it’s not the most subtle indicator for those of us able to pick up on audio cues, especially when it’s accompanied by slow head-banging in a dark club.

Then there’s the matter of the opening act.  It seemed to do everything possible to confirm my fears were correct.  Overlapping monologues about the writing ability of papa Jonathan (De Niro) and son Nick  (Dano) were cut with the most obvious obstacles.  The one’s where we establish Nick loves Keats and is dumped by his too understanding girlfriend, culminating in him bashing his head against the mirror, and reflected by Jonathan driving his taxi and telling the story of his life and novel to many unfortunate passengers.

But the simplicity of the opening act doesn’t stay for long.  While it seems like the film is going to be painted in broad strokes, seen in the moment where down on his luck sonny boy takes a look at the people in the shelter he’s got a job at and speaks in what he thinks are their voices.  He sees the Hispanics as former criminals, the punk kids in it because how hardcore it all is, and the pretty girls just rebelling against their rich parents.  Then we take a look inside the mind of papa, who decides to launch into a number of racist and homophobic rants against anyone who doesn’t look like a fine, upstanding, white, heterosexual writer.

Being Flynn isn’t about smarmy writers, but about how the poison of one generation is passed on as a struggle to the next.  The transition occurred so smoothly it caught me at a total disadvantage because of my expectations for the movie.  Weitz deftly establishes that the way Nick sees his fellow workers is not at all how they are, but a leftover remnant of his father’s hateful viewpoints.  Initially simplistic portraits of different cultures, lifestyles, and even the way our protagonists look at women, drifts away to reveal people that act like real human beings with their own motivations and reasons to be how they are.What’s kind of strange and wonderful about Being Flynn is that it’s a writer’s film, getting us completely into the minds of the characters by their dialogue and actions as though it were prose being acted.  The problem is in that same blunt direction, there’s nothing visually stimulating to keep this as a film instead of a short story.  The faith of Paul Weitz treating this as a film lies in the casting and performances.  De Niro is no stranger to playing obsessively racist taxi drivers, which Jonathan insists fuels his real job, and Weitz uses that as a way to comment through his story about how overtly toxic views have become more insidious and less overt.  Dano mirrors this wonderfully, his character eventually realizing the silly theatricality of his father’s bigotry, and settles instead for something quieter.

It’s in those moments of quiet that I praise Paul Weitz.  I completely forgot that he had any involvement with the film, and when I was letting the tears flow happily during the last scene it made sense that his name came up.  Paul is the more grounded of the two while Chris is the more experimental, screwing with the Twilight formula to great affect and adapting The Bicycle Thieves in a modern fashion that intrigues me.  But Paul makes films that tap into the thoughtful folks of my generation.  His films always show things are bad, and they may get worse, but there’s always room to grow.  No matter the blunt direction, so long as his writing is sound, I’ll always take that to heart.

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Being Flynn (2012)

Written and directed by Paul Weitz.
Starring Robert De Niro and Paul Dano.

Posted by Andrew

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