Robert De Niro last worked with director Paul Weitz on the comedy "Little Fockers," a sequel to "Meet the Parents." It wasn't an auspicious pairing - the reviews were less than kind. But it did lead them to a far more serious film about a fractious father and son. "Being Flynn" opened yesterday, and NPR's Bob Mondello has our review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Nick Flynn grew up with a supportive, adoring mom and an absent blowhard of a dad. So in whose footsteps do you suppose he'll decide to follow?


LIAM BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) I think I want to be a writer.

JULIANNE MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Yeah?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Dad's a writer, right?

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Ha. What makes you think that?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Because of right here. It says: work on my novel. It's going well. I shall soon win the Nobel Prize for both storytelling and poetry. No fear.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) You know what that letter was written from?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Prison?

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Mm-hmm.

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Why is he in prison again?

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) He stole thousands and thousands of dollars. You know how much of that we've seen?

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Zero.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Zilch.

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Zippo.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Nothing.

BROGGY: (as Nick Flynn) Nada.

MOORE: (as Jody Flynn) Niente.

MONDELLO: How to nurture a budding wordsmith. This is a flashback from Nick's current situation. Played by Paul Dano as a 20-something, Nick now writes poetry and works in a homeless shelter while figuring out what to do with his life. So he's startled when his father gets in touch after almost two decades, claiming an emergency. Turns out he's being thrown out of his apartment. What will he do?


ROBERT DE NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) I'm a sought-after houseguest. You know why?

PAUL DANO: (as Nick Flynn) No.

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Because I am an excellent raconteur. Well, until I find a new place, I have to put all my things in storage.

MONDELLO: Things will spiral down from there in a manner that would seem way too pat if "Being Flynn" weren't based on a celebrated memoir and populated by performers whose very acting styles practically scream dysfunction. Paul Dano gives Nick the watery eyes and hesitant smile of a struggling milquetoast, while Robert De Niro plays his taxi-driving father as pure ham - alcoholic, boisterous, delusional. You can see why Nick would be wary of this dad whose version of the past doesn't quite jibe with his own. Here's dad, for instance, on his ex-wife's death.


NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Such a tragic accident.

DANO: (as Nick Flynn) What accident?

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) What accident? The accident that cut her life short.

DANO: (as Nick Flynn) Wasn't an accident. She left a note.

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Did it mention me?

DANO: (as Nick Flynn) No.

NIRO: (as Jonathan Flynn) Not much of a letter writer, your mother.

MONDELLO: Writer-director Paul Weitz finds grace notes everywhere as he plunges headlong into a scarily persuasive skid row and then seeks more stable ground for his characters. His script makes much of parallels - two aspiring writers, one working in a homeless shelter, the other freshly homeless. Three family members: a mother, father and son who face their demons by respectively fighting them, embracing them and learning to live with them.

And then there's the simple fact of De Niro, playing a delusional taxi driver. It's easy to imagine "Being Flynn's" story turning precious in the wrong hands, but Weitz and his cast spin it just right - as a narrative that is both emotionally real and just writerly enough to suit its leading men. I'm Bob Mondello.

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