Film Studies: This Week at the Movies

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In Focus:
Being Flynn

Just reading a description of the film is enough to make you cringe: a young, directionless writer takes a job at a homeless shelter, only to be reunited with his estranged father—an old, directionless, homeless writer. It sounds like just the kind of pretentious, over-indulged, indie drab that would be mocked by critics and then fade off into cinematic oblivion, but despite all this, writer/director Paul Weitz’s Being Flynn succeeds in such a regard.

This is mostly because the film is based on the hilariously and self-deprecatingly titled memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by poet/playwright Nick Flynn. Sticking close to the source material, Weitz’s film is the endearing—albeit a completely cliched—story of how the young, aimless, self-destructive Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) was reunited with his father, Jonathan Flynn (Robert DeNiro) for the third time in his life when his father becomes a patron of the homeless shelter Nick works at.

The film opens with an assertive voiceover from DeNiro as he declares that the world has only ever produced three great writers, “Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, and myself,” and states that everything he has ever written is a “masterpiece.” He’s an over-confident narcissist whose constant alcoholism has him teetering on the edge of insanity. Barely getting by as a cab driver and living in a small, studio apartment, the elder Flynn has carved out a simple, yet tragic lifestyle for himself. Once married to a beautiful wife (Julianne Moore) with a young child, he was sent to prison for forging checks and robbery, and never came back, abandoning his family for good. Though despite his abandonment, Jonathan managed to write his son hundreds of letters throughout his life—letters of encouragement, advice, and proclamations of how he will grow up to be a “great writer,” just like his father.

Perhaps what’s most effective about Being Flynn is Weitz’s clever use of editing that jumps back and forth through a narrative timeline of Nick’s childhood, and his current state. Living in an abandoned strip club-turned-studio-apartment, Nick lives his empty, aimless life, also a struggling writer, scarred by the absence of his father, and the guilt of his mother’s suicide after she reads one of his short stories. When he takes a job at a local homeless shelter, at the suggestion of a beautiful girl who works there (Olivia Thirlby), he’s reunited with his father, thus bringing to light the painful memories of his life, and he begins a dangerous downward spiral of drug abuse and addiction to deal with his raging emotions.

Both Dano and DeNiro—who have little to prove in their excellent acting repertoires—are terrific in Being Flynn, and pretty much save the film from becoming another sub-par coming-of-age indie flick, but really it’s Weitz’s smart script and attention to detail that crafts this film into a heartwarming, endearing, and worthy drama.


Also Opening:
John Carter

This is a movie in which Tim Riggins Taylor Kitsch finds himself on Mars for some reason or another fighting a war with aliens. It has the potential to be the first “blockbuster” of the season, but according The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, “it’s really the first big flop” of the season.

Recommended for: Friday Night Lights fanatics, Mars fanatics, and all the John Carter’s of the world.


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Salmon fishing?? In the YEMEN?? INCONCEIVABLE! Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor prove otherwise in this cutesy, heartwarming tale of—you guessed it—people trying to incorporate the sport of salmon fishing in the Yemen. Hell, if they pull it off, I’m going to take my proposal for dolphin shows in the Potomac to Mayor Gray.

Recommended for: Salmon fishermen—both in the Yemen and elsewhere.


Silent House
Elizabeth Olsen, better known as the bastard Olsen sister, stars in this creepy haunted house thriller, in which the entire film is presented as one long take. And to answer your question, yes, it’s as exhausting as you imagine it would be. The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan seems to think it might be worth your while.

Recommended for: Fans of scary movies, those with long attention spans, and any other forgotten Olsen children.


A Thousand Words
A mysterious tree appears in Eddie Murphy’s backyard and teaches him to choose his words carefully. Seriously, who comes up with this sh*t? Geniuses, that’s who.

Recommended for: According to the 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating, no one.


Friends with Kids
From writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt (AKA: Mrs. Jon Hamm), comes this clever romantic comedy featuring pretty much the entire cast of Bridesmaids plus Westfedt and Adam Scott. Check out Alan Zilberman’s interview over at Brightest Young Things with Westfeldt about the surprisingly well-received rom-com.

Recommended for: Your friends with kids, those hoping for a Bridesmaids sequel.


Local Pick of the Week:

New African Films Festival

Head on over to the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring to check out the 8th annual New African Films Festival, which showcases the best and most vibrant new faces in African cinema.

Click here for show times and ticket info.