It would be inconceivable for a film to go wrong when both Paul Dano and Robert DeNiro are the main cast members. Paul Weitz’s Being Flynn, an adaptation of Nick Flynn’s Another Bull Shit Night in Suck City (a.k.a. the title of every broke person’s autobiography in New York), is an amazing testament to the writer-director’s multi-facetedness, which, I suppose, is a polite way of saying that it’s difficult to believe that the same person responsible for Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant and Little Fockers is also capable of making a film as meaningful and eloquent as Being Flynn.
With two narrators of one skewed story, both Jonathan and Nick Flynn–patriarch and son–tell the tale of how they unwittingly came together again after Jonathan abandoned Nick and his mother, Jody (Julianne Moore), as a result of going to prison for forging checks. Jonathan doesn’t really seem to care much about anything, however, so long as he can write. As a matter of fact, the more fucked up shit that happens to him, the better, for he feels that, “Life is gathering material.” Although Nick reluctantly admits to being a writer, he grapples with pursuing a “profession” suited to someone as deadbeat and selfish as his father.
When Nick finds himself in search of an apartment, he also find himself roommates who ally him with Denise (Olivia Thirlby, whose come a long way since Juno, both in look and in acting ability), a social worker at a prominent New York homeless shelter called Harbor Street Inn. Hesitant to apply for the job at first, Nick is immediately addicted to the sense of purpose he feels when he is helping New York’s huddled masses. And, even though Another Bull Shit Night in Suck City is set in Boston, there truly could not be a more perfect city to elucidate the bleak state of the homeless population than New York.
As everything in Nick’s life finally seems to be gaining a sense of rhythm and normalcy, his father calls him out of the blue and asks if he can help him move his possessions out of his apartment (he got kicked out for beating the shit out of his downstairs neighbors. It was an aspiring band, so don’t feel bad about it). While Nick is completely flummoxed by his father’s ability to find him so easily, Jonathan acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world that Nick’s grandmother mentioned to him that he had a truck. Too curious to pass up the chance to see his father, Nick and his roommates oblige Jonathan’s request.
After Jonathan gets what he needs from Nick, he takes off to live out of his cab (yes, he drives a cab for a living–DeNiro, I’m convinced, has always wanted to drive a taxi instead of being an actor). Unfortunately, when he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into another car, his license is revoked. And so Jonathan is forced to take to the streets, where he ultimately seeks refuge at Harbor Street. Nick, shocked to see how fast his father has fallen, is sent into an abyss of emotional darkness and, resultantly, drug use.
As Denise watches him free fall, she suggests that Nick get help for his addiction. She also severs all ties with him apart from occasionally seeing him at work. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s behavior has become increasingly erratic and violent, leading the staff to vote on him being banned from Harbor Street for two months.
While both Nick and Jonathan find themselves on a parallel downward spiral, the music of Badly Drawn Boys peppers the soundtrack with just the right amount of maudlin panache. Weitz, who enlisted Badly Drawn Boy for the About A Boy Soundtrack, chose wisely again as the music of this film is very much its own character, wielding as many feelings as Nick himself. “I’ll Keep The Things You Throw Away,” in particular, is the track with the most pull on your heartstrings.
In a side note, may I just say that whoever chose to memorialize Harrison Berg by tagging “RIP Harrison Berg” throughout Brooklyn has officially had this person immortalized within the frames of Being Flynn.