Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Being Flynn": a writer comes of age by charity -- and parenting his own dad

A film about writers and about homelessness hits two hot topics at once, so “Being Flynn” was indeed an important film on my new list.  Directed by Paul Weitz, it’s a major showpiece right now from NBC Universal’s Focus Features.  I saw it at Landmark E Street last night before a fair crowd.  Yet, it’s pretty easy to imagine how this could have been a made-for-TV Hallmark film – except it would have to be gentler.

The film shows the Harbor Street Shelter in Boston in the early 80s (actually filmed in Yonkers, NY) as a horrible place, with the male occupants largely the mentally ill.  At one point, it’s said that most of the men will be gone within a year.

The story, of course, tells us how Nick Flynn (played by a sleek and youthful Paul Dano – likable as he always is) came of age as a writer.  The real life event, of his own father’s (Robert De Niro) showing up at the shelter, actually happened when he was 27.  Flynn would go on to finish college, become a high school and college teacher as well as writer.  But in the shelter, even though he first was hired “on call”, he was obviously one of the most efficient and communicative employees.  He is certainly experiencing and giving charity according to the “Teachings of the Church”. He made reading the staff reports seem like bookstore readings.  (My own patient records from NIH in 1962 have similar notes, but not as literary.)

And Nick somewhat redeems his own father.  Jonathan does eventually get better as the film progresses. The son became the parent of the dad.  It shouldn’t have to be that way.

Early in the film, we see Nick chicken-scratching by hand and throwing away wads of paper. He gets over his writer’s block pretty quickly as he does the humanitarian work. He really reaches out.

There is the back story of his relationship with his single mother (Julianne Moore).  Dad had been sent to prison early, and Nick knew little of him.  One day, when Nick is 22, he accidentally leaves an incomplete story about his mom (handwritten) out in the home and she finds it when she comes home.  A tragedy follows, but that might have happened anyway.   I know, for a long time, I was reluctant to show my own mother my book in 1997.  It was a big event the Sunday afternoon in May 1996 when I decided to tell her and show her what was happening.

There’s an interesting twist early when Nick “interviews” the residents of a group apartment to be allowed to move in.  This is pretty common in large cities. The “gay” resident  Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is not given a lot to do as a character, but he seems very stable compared to everyone else.  The film takes place when the AIDS crisis was near its height, but that isn’t mentioned.

Toward the end, there’s a book signing party for Nick’s book of potry, “Some Ether.”  With the demise of neighborhood book stores, these parties are becoming less frequent. That’s regrettable.  I held some myself in the 90s for my “Do Ask Do Tell”, and, in Minneapolis, went to wonderful events hosted by Vince Flynn (no relation as far as I know – it’s a common “Irish Catholic” name) and Sebastian Junger. 

Here’s the official site

A good comparison could be made to the 2000 film from Gus Van Sant and Columbia, "Finding Forrester", about an African American teen (Rob Brown) becoming inspired to write by a reclusive author (Sean Connery), Columbia Pictures. 

The gerund "Being" has been used to title a film before. Try "Being John Malkovich"(1999). 

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