Adapted from Nick Flynn’s 2004 memoir Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City, Being Flynn unfortunately lives down to its marquee-friendly change in title, starting out pungent and then gradually turning maudlin. Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) stars as Nick, an aspiring young writer whose mother (Julianne Moore, seen briefly in flashbacks) committed suicide and whose father, Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), also an aspiring writer, had left them both 18 years earlier. When Jonathan finally turns up, Nick wishes he hadn’t, as the old man proves to be virulently racist and homophobic, prone to delusions of grandeur and, to top it off, homeless, spending all of his nights in the men’s shelter where Nick has recently begun working.
Early on, director Paul Weitz, who’s worked almost exclusively in broad comedy (American Pie, American Dreamz, Little Fockers, etc.), demonstrates surprising restraint, deftly sketching in the details of Nick’s own hand-to-mouth existence as well as his burgeoning relationship with a flinty looker (Olivia Thirlby). But when the time comes for Nick to look his sorry father in the face and worry that he’s seeing an aged reflection of himself, Weitz can’t seem to help spelling things out for the subtext-impaired, by way of a series of overbearing scenes in which the two men shout the movie’s themes at the top of their lungs. De Niro gives one of his more committed dramatic performances in recent years, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’d be better off renting 2010’s Stone—it’s flawed, too, but at least it knows how to be allusive.