After eviction from his apartment, ne'er do well Jonathan calls Nick after a 19-year absence to help him move things to storage. Shocked, Nick is thrown off balance by Jonathan's reappearance but helps out. A soon homeless Jonathan crosses paths with son Nick a second time when Jonathan takes refuge from the cold at the Harbor Inn Shelter where Nick works. They repeatedly fight with each other and themselves for control, even arguing in voiceover narration about who's telling this story, a very nice reflexive detail.
Nick spirals downward in this carefully observed study of the ripple effects of a toxic parent. In flashbacks, the effect on wife/mother Jody becomes equally apparent and tragic. Though she desperately wants to support Nick, single parent pressures cripple her.
Being Flynn is adapted from Nick Flynn's autobiographical book, directed masterfully by Paul Weitz, known for his film About a Boy. He shows profound understanding of the situation and reflects this in his art direction. Dark and colorless surroundings visualize the somber internal states. The music also reinforces the mood. Further, throughout the film, skillful cross cutting joins Jonathan's increasingly dangerous world in which the homeless get beaten and robbed with Nick's rather hermetic existence—both are adrift, lost to themselves, and painfully needy, a serious problem given their off-putting inaccessibility.
As Jonathan, Robert de Niro brilliantly channels self-delusion inflected with a quick-to-anger defensiveness propelled by his insidious denial. The depths of that denial come through in Jonathan's assertion that America produced only three genius writers: Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, and him, a fantasy Jonathan clings to for his own survival. As Nick, Paul Dano has a strong screen presence but can't quite convey the inner depths that would lift his portrayal to a higher level. Despite that, Being Flynn is a compelling, cautionary drama for its plunge into the world of the homeless and the lost. At a Landmark Theater.