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'Being Flynn' review: A chip off the old, miserable block

**1/2 (out of four)

I’m not faulting Paul Dano for being one of the less (to put it nicely) screen-friendly presences in Hollywood. I am faulting “Being Flynn” for shoving Denise (Olivia Thirlby, excellent), a cute and extremely stable employee of a homeless shelter, into bed with Nick (Dano), an aimless, odd-looking bummer.

Otherwise, the movie, written and directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”) and adapted from Nick Flynn’s memoir “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,” seeks little sympathy. No review of “Being Flynn” can do without the word bleak, as Nick’s already fragile state—his mom (Julianne Moore) committed suicide and he hasn’t seen his father Jonathan (Robert De Niro) in 18 years—wobbles even further when Nick takes a job at the homeless shelter and Jonathan turns up as a guest.

Jonathan’s been delusional for a long time; as the film opens he claims, “Everything I write is a masterpiece,” putting himself in the company of Twain and Salinger and focusing only on the thin compliments written at the beginning of publishers’ rejection letters. Nick wants to be a writer but fears becoming his father, a man who returns no more stable than he was when he left.

In parts, “Being Flynn” aches with the tragedy of a family doomed to repeat its mistakes. Weitz presents Nick’s rotating roster of men to play catch with as a kid, all weak substitutes for a dad that never taught him anything productive. Dano’s not as subtly expressive as Anton Yelchin, who better demonstrated the goal of distancing his behavior from an unsatisfactory parent in “The Beaver.” And De Niro’s most substantial character in a while still doesn’t feel fully processed. Clearly Jonathan suffers from some sort of mental illness, but “Being Flynn” stops short of examining Jonathan’s condition and treatment while skipping through Nick’s downward spiral.

It makes this personal story of two self-indulgent men and their hiccupping attempts to escape themselves function decently as “About a Family,” but without properly exploring the dad and son individually.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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