Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Sean Penn
Writer: Jez Butterworth and Jennifer Vogel
Cast: Dylan Penn, Sean Penn, Katheryn Winnick, Josh Brolin, Dale Dickey, Leo Norbert Butz
Screened at: Harmony Gold Preview House, LA, 8/16/21
Opens: August 20th, 2021
Fathers and daughters can have all sorts of relationships. Old-fashioned norms might dictate that a father loves his daughter but connects with her on a different level than a typical son, who could more easily share some of his manly passions and follow in the family business or trade. Very generally speaking, fathers don’t always have the best track record, and may continually disappoint their children, even as that next generation holds out hope for a more consistent and enduring link. Flag Day tells the story of a young woman molded by her father’s influence and just as shaped by his absence as by his presence.
Jennifer Vogel grows up with her younger brother Nick being shuttled between the equally unstable homes of her mother Patty (Katheryn Winninck) and father John (Sean Penn). While her mother battles depression and other ailments, her father represents a wondrous escape and sense of adventure. What he does is never quite clear, but he’s always on the cusp of some new invention or scheme, many of which get him into trouble with local enforcers or the law. When an older Jennifer (Dylan Penn) decides to leave the home her mother shares with her latest troublesome partner (Norbert Leo Butz), she begins to see through an adult lens who her father really is, paving the way for her to pursue a journalism career while trying to understand how her father operates.
This film is based on the true story of the real Jennifer Vogel, as documented in her book Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life. It paints John as an enigmatic figure, someone who is always up to something, and the more excited he was about a particular venture, the likelier it was that it would be headed for ruin. He goes through many phases throughout the film, as does his daughter, as they struggle to adapt to the world’s expectations of them while remaining true to who they are.
This cinematic effort is notable because it finds a real-life father and daughter portraying these characters, though Sean, who also directs, noted at a Q & A for the film that it was never supposed to be that way, but a previous actor’s need to drop out of the project one month before filming resulted in him deciding to take on the role. What results is a fascinating opportunity to see these two interact in a stunningly genuine way, one that, as Sean joked, represents the complex relationship the two of them have that stems from their history and his time in the limelight.
Fortunately, both Penns are skilled actors, and they do extremely well on screen together. While Sean has not had a high-profile leading role in a number of years, this is a perfect use of his talents, and he responds well to a part he didn’t plan to play. Dylan is a discovery, someone who responds emphatically to the challenges of portraying Jennifer through many phases of her life and emotional tangents. Winnick also performs strongly, but it’s somewhat surprising to see two excellent actors, Regina King and Eddie Marsan, relegated to essentially one-scene roles which don’t give them all that much to do.
This film exists because the contents of Jennifer’s book and her story spoke to Sean, and while it does indeed portray a version of her experiences, there’s nothing exceptionally individualistic about this particular tale. John Vogel did exist, but there are also many like him, and so this film is most valuable as a well-acted exploration of family and expectations, and the weight put on the truth that doesn’t always translate to reality.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B