July 01, 2013

BEING FLYNN And Mourning My A/V Mom


"We were put on this earth to help other people."
Paul Weitz's Being Flynn isn't great.  Paul Dano is good, Julianne Moore is present, Olivia Thirlby is adorable, and Robert De Niro is actually awake and giving a shit.  But the pacing is downright awful, dragging in the middle and then inexplicably rushing the end.  My ultimate conclusion is that the most notable aspect of this movie is the title: it's based on the autobiographical book by Nick Flynn called Another Bullshit Night In Suck City.  I understand that most theaters won't post the word "bullshit" on their marquee, but I've never seen a more dramatic example of a title downgrading from Totally Freaking Awesome to Bland As Hell.

But despite all that it's a film I'll henceforth remember with sadness, a movie inextricably tied to my specific viewing experience.  You see, I had to pause the film multiple times to make and receive phone calls with a lot of old friends, but they weren't the kind of calls that anybody enjoys.  That's because, about five minutes into the movie, I received an email telling me that an important person in my life was gone from this world.

When I was in high school, I spent the majority of my free time in the basement of the science building, home of the A/V crew.  There were about 20-30 of us who were allowed to lounge in the office during our free periods and long after the school day had ended, playing computer games (mostly Tetris, South Park Snood, Daleks, Dome Wars and Skittles) while munching on our own private supply of snacks in exchange for a willingness to set up equipment when necessary and help project movies on the weekends.  We were a pretty diverse group, spanning the range from theater kids to athletes and from loquacious extroverts to kids who barely spoke.  But above all and despite our differences, we were a family.

Our A/V family had two parent figures.  Mr. Moll was our fun-loving father figure, both the film teacher and head of the A/V department, and our collective mother was his assistant Mrs. Lyons, who we affectionately called Ms. L.  She had been at the school for more than a decade when I got there and had seen countless audio/visually-inclined students pass through the office over the years.  Ms. L was a short, heavyset woman in her late 50's with closely cropped blonde hair and a seemingly boundless reserve of energy despite being slow to move thanks to a pair of knees that had betrayed her long ago.  She was also whip-smart: in the back of the office was "the stacks," a video library containing hundreds of movies (on VHS!) that she kept track of with startling precision.  And, like any good mother figure, Ms. L was both affectionate and stern in equal measure.  She'd be the first one to wish you a happy birthday, or bring in Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts when we embarked on our senior projects in the spring, but she'd also call you out on your shit if you broke the rules or were just generally acting like an ass.  She was, quite simply, one of the kindest, funniest and most giving ladies I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

When I think of Ms. L, I will forever think of this story: At the tail end of my senior year, Mr. Moll left the school to take an unexpected job offer and the school hastily hired someone who was almost completely unqualified to fill his position for the remainder of the year.  In fact, not only was he an asshat and borderline incompetent, but he was later found to be stealing equipment from the school.  From this point on, we'll refer to him as Thieving Bastard.  Ms. L did not care for Thieving Bastard (neither did anyone else) and when it became clear that he was going to return for the following school year, she decided that it was perhaps time for her to retire.  However, when we seniors went on project, Thieving Bastard began to heavily rely on one of the more knowledgeable juniors, let's call him Albert, to get everything done.  Albert was such a nice kid and loved working in the A/V so much that soon his schoolwork began to suffer and Ms. L worried that, if left unchecked for the entirety of his senior year, Albert simply wouldn't graduate on time.  And so she quietly decided that she would stay on for another year solely to ensure that Thieving Bastard didn't take undue advantage of Albert and to make sure he finished his senior year.  I was unaware of all of this at the time, but after I graduated someone told me that Albert had actually decided to change schools for his senior year.  I was working in the A/V that summer and one day Ms. L stopped by to pick up some things from the office.  I mentioned off-hand that Albert wasn't coming back next year and I could see her visibly tremble as tears of relief came to her eyes.  "Good for him," she said, as she told me about her now unnecessary plan to delay her retirement.  A week later a letter came into the office addressed to the head of the department.  I immediately recognized Ms. L's handwriting and knew that I was holding her letter of resignation.  I couldn't have been happier for her.

Sadly I haven't seen her much since that day.  As it just so happens, her former boss, Mr. Moll, is my current boss and we often reminisce about our days in the A/V with Ms. L.  (Hilariously, my high school almost hired me to fill her position a few years ago.)  Her family has a place on Cape Cod a few blocks away from my parents, so occasionally I would run into her during the summer, standing in front of her house watering her flowers.  As it happens, I was driving through that neighborhood just yesterday morning and immediately thought of her.  But, in truth, it's been years since I saw her last and I can only blame myself for missing out on the opportunity to check in since moving back from Los Angeles.  I would have loved to introduce her to my wife.  I think they would have gotten along famously.

Ms. L passed away surrounded by family in her home on June 27.  Let me quote one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite TV shows after the death of another great Ms. L:

"She was a real dame, old friend, a real broad."


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Title: Being Flynn
Director: Paul Weitz
Starring: Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Victor Rasuk, Lili Taylor
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: HBO HD