Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Eddie Rouse, Steve Cirbus, Lili Taylor, Victor Rasuk, Liam Broggy, Chris Chalk, Wes Studi, Michael Gibson, Thomas Middleditch
Written by: Paul Weitz, based on the book by Nick Flynn
Directed by: Paul Weitz
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual content, drug use, and brief nudity
Running Time: 102
Date: 03/02/2012

Being Flynn (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Paul Weitz started as a writer in comedy, but in his career as director, he has tried to mix comedy with drama. He has never really got the mixture perfect, though he has created some very satisfactory portions, as in About a Boy (2002).

Based on Nick Flynn's memoir with a much better title, "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City," Being Flynn starts off with some funny stuff in its first half-hour, but then the laughs dry up entirely over the remaining 75 minutes. Instead the movie deals with drug addiction, alcoholism, and homelessness.

This is not to say that the movie is very heavy. Because he is at least attempting a mix of comedy, this harsh material never quite comes across as bludgeoning or depressing. The other upside of it is that Robert De Niro has perhaps his richest comedy role since Midnight Run -- and much better than the Analyze This movies and Meet the Parents movies.

Jonathan claims to be a great American writer, in league with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. His primary income, however, comes from driving a cab. (This movie is very different from Taxi Driver.) He's also a temperamental crank with little patience for anyone younger, or of a different ethnicity, religion, or sex. After a temper tantrum, he gets thrown out of his apartment.

Meanwhile, Nick (Paul Dano, looking oddly unhealthy), has grown up after his mom's suicide, and not knowing his father at all. He suddenly receives a call from Jonathan, asking for help moving. The experience blindsides Nick. Distraught, he winds up getting a job at a homeless shelter. And who should wind up homeless and seeking help at the same shelter?

Olivia Thirlby plays Nick's love interest, and the one who gets him the job. She becomes interesting after Nick begins using drugs and she refuses to have anything to do with him. But she's still a transitional character, only interesting in the ways that she relates to Nick. Lili Taylor has it even worse. She's only in one or two scenes, working at the shelter (though she is married to the real-life Nick, so it makes sense that she might agree to a smaller part, just to be around and involved). But Julianne Moore has some terrific scenes as Nick's mother (in flashbacks).

The movie is effective in fits and starts, but the main trouble is that the tone is too wobbly; it's too big here and too small there, funny here, and not funny enough there, heavy in places with no time to rest and recover. It takes a great deal of skill to pull off an effective comedy-drama, with generous amounts of both laughter and tears. Being Flynn is admirable for trying, but it doesn't quite succeed.

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