Like father, like son? Jonathan Flynn (De Niro) and his estranged scion, Nick (Dano), are both writers, though they're a long way from Dumas pre and fils. Jonathan is the king of bullshitters – a man convinced every word he commits to page is God's gift, and happy to tell you as much. Nick is more in limbo: His writing shows lots of raw talent, but ever since his dad abandoned him and his mom (Moore) committed suicide, he's been introverted and aimless. About time for these two lost souls to reunite, don't you think? And so they do, at a homeless shelter where Nick volunteers and at which a destitute Jonathan walks into one night after losing his livelihood.
The duo's rocky road to redemption might feel entirely contrived if not based in fact: Paul Weitz's clunky dramedy is adapted from the actual Nick Flynn's best-selling memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, though it's not only the title that's been softened in transition from page to screen. Sadly, most of the film's dull edges have to do with De Niro, who is clearly in rest-on-his-laurels mode; at his worst, he approaches radioactive, Robin Williams levels of bathos, as when Jonathan – roaring like a bush-league Lear – is banned from the shelter for bad behaviour. Dano fares better as the younger Flynn, especially when the character hits bottom and goes on a bleary-eyed bender. But that isn't enough to counter the sense that this barrel-scraping spectacle with a twist of salvation is pretty cut-rate. Keith Uhlich