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Originally published March 15, 2012 at 3:01 PM | Page modified March 16, 2012 at 12:47 PM

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Movie review

'Being Flynn': Tale of estranged father, son fails to come together

A movie review of "Being Flynn," writer-director Paul Weitz's latest father-son drama, starring Robert De Niro and Paul Dano. For a movie that deals with suicide, homelessness and cocaine addiction, the film feels strangely bland.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Being Flynn,' with Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby. Written and directed by Paul Weitz, based on a memoir by Nick Flynn. 102 minutes. Rated R for language, some sexual content, drug use and brief nudity. Several theaters.

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For a movie that deals with suicide, homelessness and cocaine addiction, writer-director Paul Weitz's latest family drama feels strangely bland.

Weitz and his writer-director brother, Chris, codirected the 2002 Hugh Grant gem, "About a Boy." More recently they've done solo work: Chris with the Oscar-nominated "A Better Life," Paul with the underrated "In Good Company" and now the problematic "Being Flynn." All deal with unlikely father figures, but in very different ways.

Unlike the earlier films, which rely on charm and intimacy, "Being Flynn" tries to turn the dad figure, Jonathan Flynn (played by Robert De Niro), into a lovable racist/homophobe who has abandoned his wife (Julianne Moore) and child (Paul Dano).

The lovability factor is a hard sell on several levels. As De Niro plays this self-proclaimed literary genius (he claims to be the only rival to Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger), Jonathan is so aggressively unpleasant that he gives his son, Nick, very little to work with when he suddenly turns up and needs help.

Flashbacks establish the circumstances under which Moore's character disappeared, and some of them are surprisingly suspenseful. The sight of mother and son waiting patiently for a bus to disgorge Jonathan (will he finally turn up?) may be the most effective moment.

A close runner-up: Jonathan's sudden, unwelcome appearance at the homeless shelter where Nick has finally found meaningful work.

Unfortunately, too many moments remind us of other, better movies: the independent girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) who lectures Nick on drug use; the sarcastic running commentary by Nick's gay and black roommates; the alcohol-fueled rants that lead the shelter to ban Jonathan.

"Being Flynn" is based on a 2004 memoir by Nick Flynn (the title can't be printed in a family newspaper). The actors, especially Thirlby and Dano, do have their moments. But De Niro is over-the-top just often enough to undermine their relative subtlety.

John Hartl:

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