BEING FLYNN begins with an ending. Nick's (Paul Dano) girlfriend returns from a trip to find traces of his infidelity in the ashtray by their bed, full of lipstick-smeared cigarette butts. Incensed, she begins chucking books at Nick's head, sarcastically reeling off their titles as she rips into him for a high-mindedness his actions don't live up to. The scene serves the double function of letting us know that while Nick may be a cad, he's also troubled, smarter than he looks, and maybe has a sensitive side... basically, he's Ponyboy Curtis, and he's just been kicked out of his apartment.
Aimless and heavy-drinking, he rents a room in an abandoned strip club and gets a job working at a homeless shelter. One day he's stunned to encounter his estranged father at the check-in window, a man he's only met once in his adult life—and who, it turns out, fancies himself a writer, just like Nick himself.
Paul Dano has a quiet, slightly untrustworthy charisma as Nick, but Robert De Niro is painfully miscast as Nick's delusional, alcoholic father, prone to grand statements and racist outbursts. There is something deeply unsettling about watching De Niro pretend to be homeless, stuffing his hat with toilet paper to keep his ears warm, or curling up over a heating vent to sleep for the night—like a socioeconomic version of blackface. It's safe to assume that Robert De Niro hasn't experienced cold or hunger since at least the late '70s.
Being Flynn is based on the undeniably compelling events first described in writer Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Paul Weitz's adaptation, though, is largely told in a sort of transformational-cinema shorthand, where a job at a homeless shelter signals a growing maturity, and a hit off a crack pipe signposts an addiction, soon to be addressed by an NA meeting montage. The result, despite the inherent drama of its subject matter, is strangely dull.