Nick (Paul Dano) is a directionless young man living in a glorified squat who maybe wants to be a writer. After years of neglect, his feckless, delusional and troubled father re-connects with him; dad Jonathan (Robert DeNiro) fancies himself the greatest American novelist, who needs only to be published. Their rocky relationship grows more complicated when Jonathan bottoms out, ending up at the homeless shelter where Nick works. Ironically, working at the shelter had been giving Nick some much-needed structure and purpose, but his father's arrival there puts Nick's fragile recovery in crisis.
This dramedy, directed by Paul Weitz, is an adaptation of Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. It's a mostly intimate, indie-ish film that lets the viewer enjoy the performances of DeNiro and Dano (the weirdo teen from Little Miss Sunshine). Wisely, it's not sentimental, nor does it trundle out any crowd-pleasing redemptive narrative. Sometimes it's enough to just make peace with the not-very-good people in one's life.
And speaking of bad actors, it feels like it's been two decades since DeNiro did anything more substantial than a throwaway role in a crappy film. There's still an air of the hammy, paycheck-cashing DeNiro here, but there are also moments when you recall what a great actor he can be. If anything, DeNiro, like Jonathan, has sullied his own reputation by failing to realize the irreparable harm his perpetual foolishness has caused.