There is something exceptional about father-son stories and in the extraordinary Being Flynn, it clearly shows that blood is thicker than water. Fathers and their sons bonding, or drifting apart, are significant ingredients of a story that anyone can relate to.
The memorable About A Boy was co-written and directed by brothers Paul and Chris Weitz; Chris then directed the outstanding story between a father who wants a better life for his son in A Better Life, while Paul took a comedic swing at a father who has to come to terms with teenage antics in American Pie, and also directed Rpbert de Niro as the obnoxious father in Meet The Fockers.
Now with Being Flynn, Paul Weitz is back in the director's seat and also adapted Nick Flynn's 2004 memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, a true life story based on the boyhood memories of the relationship (or non-relationship) between Flynn's and his eccentric dad.
Being Flynn tells of Nick Flynn (portrayed in the film by Paul Dano), a young writer seeking to define himself. He misses his late mother, but his father, Jonathan, is not even a memory, as Nick has not seen the man in 18 years.
Drinking and eccentricities accelerating
Jonathan Flynn (Robert de Niro) has long defined himself as a great writer, "a master storyteller". After abandoning his wife and child, Jonathan scrapes through life on his own terms and ends up serving time in prison for cashing forged checks. After prison, he drives a cab for a number of years, but with his drinking and eccentricities now accelerating, he loses his job. Despite the occasional grandiose letter to his son, he has remained absent from Nick's life.
Suddenly facing eviction from his apartment, Jonathan impulsively reaches out to Nick and the two come face to face.
The film brilliantly explores bonds both unbreakable and fragile between parent and child, and is superbly adapted and skilfully directed by Paul Weitz; his sensitive perception of the subject matter, combined with his skilful direction in understanding the intimate bond between his characters, results in a fervent artistic expression that is filled with emotion and heartfelt sincerity.
Potent and emotionally fulfilling
The bond and estrangement between father and son has never been more potent and emotionally fulfilling without ever becoming sentimental fluff.
One would never imagine that Robert de Niro could ever outshine himself as an actor, but he does, triumphantly so. De Niro's passionate performance as a dreamer who lives in his own reality, and a father whose reality destroys his family and the world around him, will break your heart.
Filled with enthusiasm, empathy and compassion, De Niro embodies a man whose spirit soars on a soulful journey to redemption.
Paul Dano (from Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood) is equally mesmerising as the young Nick, a young writer seeking desperately to define himself and equally believe in the fantasy spun by his father.
Walking a thin tightrope between loving and loathing, Dano's powerful performance is touching and truthful; the vigour and dynamic tension between Dano and De Niro offers first-rate entertainment that is thought provoking.
Julianne Moore also delivers a fine performance as the loving and caring mother who lives for son, and wife who has to survive without her husband.
An important and relevant film
Besides the power play between father and son, filled with pathos, humour and drama, Being Flynn is an important and relevant film that shows how important identity and the journey to the inner self are in a world where individuality is crushed.
Sometimes we do things that can never be changed, but walking away from important issues is never an answer to filling the void and healing wounds.
Being Flynn also shines an affecting light on the plight of the homeless, who live a shadow world where they become ghosts. As in some films where they remain the homeless, here they become real people we care about and have empathy for.
A heartrending journey
Being Flynn is a heartrending journey into the hearts and souls of characters who desperately need to redefine their humanness and embrace their unique humanity.
It is a gentle film that honestly and compassionately examines the world we live in and a world we are sometimes too afraid to explore.
Guilt can sometimes motivate people to become strangers to those we love, but it is also a motivating factor in bridging the gap between understanding and avoiding.
If ever you have felt a stranger to those who have no understanding about who you are or what you are, or have never really allowed yourself to become a friend to the strangers you shun, Being Flynn will most definitely inspire you to step outside the darkness and into a bright new world where hope will displace the gloominess.
Being Flynn is exceptional in that it shows us what it is like to be human and that it is not that difficult to change, for if we can change ourselves, it will definitely change the world around us and make it a harmonious place to live in. And in this change, we will make new friends who will show us what life really is all about.
The film beautifully explores the relationship between love and hate, ignorance and awareness; it powerfully questions the differences that separate and even the unity that divides.
It also shows that addiction to self and that ego is sometimes the most dangerous drug of all, and sometimes the hardest to let go of.
If you are looking for a nostalgic human drama that will make you feel good about being alive, Being Flynn is a dignified experience that you will remember long after you leave the cinema. You are bound to re-examine relationships and refocus the importance of sharing.
Introduce yourself to the stranger sitting next to you in the darkness of the cinema and see what difference it will make.
Behind the scenes
Having to a tight 36-day shooting schedule, filming on Being Flynn was at last set to begin in March, 2011; however, a few weeks before principal photography, the filmmakers mobilised a small unit to take advantage of considerable snowfall in New York City and shoot footage. So it was that Robert de Niro first fully inhabited the homeless countenance of Jonathan Flynn and walked the streets of lower Manhattan. Paul Weitz and cinematographer Declan Quinn kept a discreet distance with a skeleton crew.
Amidst a snowstorm, the man moved slowly and deliberately. Nearby pedestrians avoided and ignored him. Also nearby was Nick Flynn, who remembers, "I have never seen anything like it, this man walking across the street. He was unrecognisable; his face was transformed. Here was so purely, so completely a homeless man - and also someone maintaining some dignity although beaten by the circumstances of his life. When this quick preliminary round of shooting was completed, De Niro decamped to the Greenwich Hotel, which he co-owns, to clean up. There, hotel security was promptly called over because of reports of a homeless man visiting. The situation was resolved without incident.
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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