Be who you’re meant to be or be who you want to be.

Being Flynn (adapted from Nick Flynn’s memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) opens in limited release today with the story of fathers and sons and how that relationship affects both parties even when they’re largely absent from one another. Unfortunately, what’s really mostly absent from this film is a driving plot.

Nick Flynn is a despondent young man living in Boston whose father abandoned his family when he was very young. He’s trying to find direction in his life and decides to take a job as a social worker in a homeless shelter in order to, as he puts hit, get him to stop “despising himself”.

Meanwhile, his father, Jonathan Flynn, is living, unbeknownst to Nick, in the same town and working as a cabbie. Jonathan has delusions of grandeur at being one of America’s truly great writers, but seems to do nothing more with his days than drink and growl at the rest of the world.

Out of nowhere, Jonathan makes contact with his estranged son for the first time in 18 years to ask him to help him move out of the apartment from which he’s just been evicted. Jonathan disappears from Nick’s life immediately thereafter and Nick sort of writes it off as a weird chance encounter.

After being evicted, Jonathan’s life spirals downward, and when he loses his cab (his only home at this point), he winds up at Nick’s homeless shelter looking for a room.

The issue with Being Flynn is its plot. The fact that it’s absent.

There simply isn’t much of a story here. It relies on a dueling voiceover narration from both Flynns to push the film forward, and if it weren’t for our ability to hear the characters thoughts and the way they develop, it would be like nothing had happened in the film at all. The journey is almost entirely internalized and it makes for a flat effort from a story point-of-view.

The film’s faults are almost entirely compensated for by the strong work from its cast. Dano is somberly affecting as a man looking to find himself and Olivia Thirlby offers the viewer a way in as his sometimes-girlfriend. The film, however, belongs to Robert De Niro.

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen De Niro in a role this complex. He must deal with a decent into madness while maintaining the visage and confidence of a brilliant writer. Yes, this gets lost in his madness, but there’s a since of pride and conviction in the character De Niro brings to the screen that allows him to transcend stock character. This is a performance that quickly outdoes the writing and some of De Niro’s best work in quite some time.

While the performances are solid, the film as a whole suffers from the aforementioned lack of direction. There’s an arc for both Flynns here, but that arc doesn’t really come from any story momentum, it’s more of a reactionary build from each growing tired of a set of circumstances that are established fairly early in the film.

Because of the lack of progress, the film doesn’t really have much of a resolution. We find the characters changed from earlier on, but it’s not really from the impact of the film’s events. It’s more of a self-realization that we’re told about directly. It’s far more interesting to see characters like these change in the midst of a story, and just hearing them talk about their surroundings feels a bit too much like watching a book, or just listening to somebody talk, when what would really work best was a story that actually got to the crux of this film’s theme: are we destined to turn out like our parents?

This theme is never directly stated, but it’s a clear parallel drawn between these two characters throughout the film that brings it to the forefront. Nick’s desire not to fall into his father’s path seems to be his driving motivation for his actions. The issue is that the actions never evolve or develop. He just stays put and waits for his father to become so intolerable that he has no choice but to fix himself.

It just isn’t an interesting enough means of development and the film suffers from not having a clear throughline. Performances this strong deserved to be challenged more by the way the story moved and not forced to rely on tricks to get out their development.

As Nick states at one point, “It shows promise,” but ultimately doesn’t have the right stuff to get where it should be able to go.