Saturday, March 10, 2012

Robert De Niro And Paul Dano Are "Being Flynn"

The promo company that asked me to host this give-a-way is compensating me for my efforts with movie tickets. Please understand that this promotion has not influenced my opinions. I have always been a fan of this book, and would have written about and recommended the movie, regardless. This blog post is not much of what the promo company was wanting, but if you know me, I have a hard time doing what I'm told. :) I'll make another post more in keeping with the instructions. For info on the giveaway, a chance to win movie tickets, the movie sound track, and the book that inspired the movie, Click Here.

OK, now on to what I have to say:
It took less than a week of living at the Nashville Union Rescue Mission to develop an understanding of the social sphere within the shelter, and my place in it. The initial fear that consumed me had given way to an uneasy confidence. I felt safe enough, and knew what and whom to avoid. The paradigm that ruled the shelter was different from that of normal every day life, but it was knowable. Like my high school drivers ed teacher used to say, "go with the flow." Knowing that the flow of shelter life doesn't often make sense, and knowing it's futile to try and make sense of it, you'll be ok. I adapted quickly enough. My own home life had been much the same. I was accustomed to low expectations.

My first experience with homelessness happened in the middle of winter. The mission had opened up what they called the "over flow room", for men to get inside and stay warm. It was actually the basement of the mission's dormatory building. The room was long and rectangular. The floor was a pored concrete slab, the walls were cinder blocks painted white, the ceiling was painted white too, with thin pipes running the length of it, just out of reach. Men constantly flowed in and out of the room. Some others stayed in the room all day. Women were required to use a separate room, and for good reason. Smoking was allowed, so a permanent cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air. The florescent light bulbs glowed through the haze. Beat up and fragile metal folding chairs and odd shaped pieces of carpet remnants were pushed up against the walls. It didn't take long to learn it was best to sit in the chairs, the carpet pieces were over run with lice. Some men sat on the carpets anyway, they didn't much care about the crawling things. What's one more? Besides, the bare concrete was cold. A large black man, one of the mumblers known as "two steps", was sitting in the middle of the room on the floor, obsessing over the exact placement of a plastic cup in front of him.

You could tell how far gone a man was by the condition of his clothes and the smell he emitted. Alcohol not only affects people's breath, but also the smell of their three day old sweat. All the men needed a shave, and a shower, more than one had shit his pants. Newly homeless people were easier to spot.

The basement was filled with the din of small talk and big talk, story telling, threats and raised voices, alcoholic slurred speech, crazy people mumbling to themselves, buzzing cheap radios playing on different stations. Some one shouted an accusation, an elbow cocked back, a shaky fist landed square on a greasy nose, a drunk man fell. No on reacted. No one gave a fuck.

Thinking over all the things I had seen that first week of homelessness, I said out loud, "this would make one hell of a movie."
The guy sitting next to me replied, "yep."


There have been movies made about homelessness, before. None of which struck me as being very accurate in relating the realities of homelessness as I knew them. "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" was unrealistic to the point of being offensive. "Ironweed" was depressing as hell with its obsession with death. "With Honors" has been my personal favorite, but even that movie was ultimately disappointing. Joe Pesci tried too hard to be quirky and zany as the entertaining homeless protagonist. Robin Williams failed for the same reason in "The Fisher King". "The Soloist" was good in that it highlighted the difficulties chronically homeless people face as they attempt to transition out of homelessness, but Jamie Fox's portrayal of the homeless man didn't evoke any sympathy, at least from me. And don't get me started on "The Pursuit of Happyness" - the story of a man going from homeless to stock broker wealthy. The difficult and complex realities of homelessness were scrubbed clean from that movie so to fit the capitalistic "it only takes hard work" narrative.

Books I had read on homelessness similarly had me underwhelmed. That is until I read Nick Flynn's "Another bullshit Night In Suck City". That book resonated with my own experiences. Not only did the author tell an accurate story in my eyes, he did so in a manner, with his choice of words and phrasing, that revealed what it truly feels like to be homeless.

Needless to say, I was excited to learn that the book was being made into a movie. I kept checking with imdb.com for news of the movie's progress. For years there was no news. It seemed as though the project had been shelved. Then, just recently, I happened onto the trailer for the movie - not only was the movie being made, it had been finished. (I was interested to see what they were going to do with the title - would theaters actually put the word "bullshit" on their marquee? "Being Flynn" seems a good choice.)

I was more than glad to see that Robert De Niro was cast in the role of the homeless man. This signified, to me at least, that a serious effort was going to be made in creating a quality movie. The story deserves as much.
Paul Dano, who gave a remarkable performance in "There Will Be Blood", stars as Nick Flynn, the author of the memoir. Just imagine being a young man working at a homeless shelter and learning that your own father is homeless.

Does the apple fall far from the tree?

I've been reading reviews of the movie during it's initial limited release, and they have been mixed. I wonder if the critics are really reacting to the movie, or are reacting to the theme of the movie. There have been few middle of the road reviews about the movie, either people really like it, or really don't. Homelessness is one of those subjects that seems to strongly affect people. It touches something at their core, causing strong reactions. The reputation of the book too, could be influencing how people see the movie. Are they truly seeing the movie, or just recalling how they felt when they read the book? On rottentomatoes.com the movie gets a 48% positive rating from the critics, but a 78% positive rating from the audience. Still, the movie has so far only been in limited release - two theaters in L.A. and two in NYC. It remains to be seen what the masses will think of it.

Regardless, I'm going to see it. Whether or not you go to see this movie, do yourself a favor and read the book.