I often imagine myself as a better writer than I really am. It’s often a case of me simply not proofreading what I write, because when I read it in my head, I often “hear” things that don’t flow well or encounter stupid mistakes. If I were to spend more time reading what I write before posting it, then I’d probably come off sounding a lot better, but even still I wouldn’t be surprised if I overestimate myself at least some of the time.
But Jonathan Flynn (played by Robert De Niro) does not have any doubts at all about his writing abilities. He’s quite certain that he’s one of the greatest writers in American history. He’s never had anything published, but he once got a very encouraging rejection letter that said he just wasn’t right for their audience, which is clearly more a reflection on the publisher than on his skill. But until some publisher wakes up and realizes what they’re missing, Jonathan is stuck behind the wheel of a cab. He may have some issues with racism and some of his customers are a little intimidated by the nail-spiked baseball bat he carries as a weapon, but it’s steady income. And after a somewhat threatening dispute with his inconsiderate landlord, Jonathan’s cab also becomes his home. Of course, a taxi doesn’t make for the most comfortable lodging, so he’s tired all the time and when he falls asleep at the wheel, he gets into an accident that ultimately leads to him losing his license and his job and his home.
Jonathan also wasn’t going to win any awards for great parenting. He abandoned his wife Jody (Julianne Moore) and son Nick (Paul Dano) 18 years ago, and although he wrote letters occasionally (sometimes from jail), they basically lived their lives without him. But after his mom committed suicide, Nick found himself kind of wandering aimlessly through life. He had a little money so that he didn’t have to work, but he felt that he needed some kind of direction. When a friend suggested that he come work for a nearby homeless shelter, he took them up on it and found it suited him well. His work required him to interact with all kinds of people with all kinds of physical and mental conditions, so he quickly became adept at dealing with whatever might pop up. But he wasn’t really prepared to see his father show up one night as a guest at the shelter.
I knew the kind of subject matter that Being Flynn dealt with going into the movie, so I was prepared for something of a downer, but I really wasn’t ready for just how dark things get in this film. There is occasional humor, but even that is generally something that provides amusement but doesn’t really lighten the mood. And where the father’s behavior could be at least partially explained by mental illness, it is the frustration of the obviously-bad choices made by the ostensibly sane son that I think really did me in.
But despite its effect on my overall mood, I was a little disappointed with the content. It moves pretty slowly in the middle, taking more time than necessary to show the that both Jonathan and Nick were facing, and although it was an important element in Nick’s life, I think that the film spends too much time on his relationship with his mother at various points in his life. But it’s the end of the film that really feels out of place to me. It had such an abrupt change in tone that I was left kind wondering what happened, and because it also felt unearned I found myself kind of numbed to the emotional impact the film had over me to that point. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I got to follow this movie with three great comedies I’d already seen before so that I wasn’t stuck in a funk for the rest of the day.