This film is about a family that was a mess and the film itself is a bit of a jumbled mess, but Director Sean Penn gets to showcase his daughter, Dylan, as a competent actress in the lead. He has been toying with the story for 10 years. It’s based on the memoir of journalist Jennifer Vogel, “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story Of My Father’s Counterfeit Life. ”
When he decided he wanted real daughter, Dylan, (Mother is Robin Wright) to play the lead, she was not buying it. But it became a Penn family project with Sean directing himself, daughter, Dylan as Jennifer and son, Hopper, as Nick.
We’ve already got the beginning and the end in the opening of the film with Regina King as U.S. Marshall Blake. She spills the beans about catching up with John, the ultimate con man, so we know where this is going. Her attempt at understanding what Jennifer is going through is also lame.
John Vogel, self-acclaimed entrepreneur, always had a million deals going. He even thought he was owed something for being born on Flag Day (July 14th). But his own mother didn’t agree. “Never trust a bastard born on Flag Day.”
John was charismatic and a liar who needed adventure and brought a lot to his children, when he was around. But when the going got tough, the bills mounted, or the law got too close, he took off, leaving wife, Patty, (Katheryn Winnick), and kids in a mountain of debt with no parachute. The film shows John with the kids in several stages of their lives, at around 6, tween to teen and as adults. Josh Brolin has a small role as Uncle Beck, Patty’s brother, who tries to come to the rescue. But that doesn’t last long.
There are too many flashbacks interwoven in the structure of the film showing John as the fun Dad providing the adventure he craved so much for himself as well as his kids. Those scenes of them together become repetitive, interrupting the pace and elongating the story unnecessarily. And there is too much of Jennifer narrating the story.
But when things are going wrong, there is so much abusive yelling and screaming at each other, it’s abusive for the audience. Even more annoying is when Jennifer keeps forgiving her sad, bad Dad over and over and over again. And there are too many closeups of her staring off as her way of dealing with it. However, it is interesting that she learns a few tricks of the trade from her Dad that come into play later in her life. Lying actually helped her become a journalist.
This is the first time Academy Award winner Sean has directed himself. There wasn’t enough of a deft touch in the directing, and very few nuances. Every time John gets in trouble, he just lights up a cigarette. There is a lack of chemistry between father and daughter and even more lacking between Dylan and real brother Hopper playing her brother Nick as an adult.
There is no doubt Penn had something to say about John Vogel and fatherhood in this directorial debut, especially casting his own children. Credit to Sean Penn for showcasing the acting talent of his daughter in an intense role. But we look forward to seeing Dylan expand on this performance and time will tell if that acting gene runs in the family.
United Artists/MGM 1 hour 47 minutes R
In Theaters Now
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