Notes on a Flag Day

I hold season tickets to Sean Penn’s career. 

And this framework is a useful lens through which to engage with the meh-ness of Flag Day, mostly because it’s been a minute since we’ve seen him on the big screen, which makes the whole movie feel like a “what’s he been up to / what sort of art is he creating / what type of artist is he at this stage of his game” occasion.

Could his performance stand to be reined in? It wouldn’t be a Sean Penn joint if that wasn’t true. But his turn strikes an interesting balance between yucking it up for the camera, while still keeping his character at an enigmatic distance from the audience. He gives us a lot — I mean, it’s Sean Penn we’re talking about here — but you could still be left wondering about his character, “who is this guy?” That’s an artistically-ripe place to reside!

Or, does he as a filmmaker lack the ability to sufficiently probe his subjects? This same air of mysterious intrigue does not hang over the actual focus of the story, whose entire being is spelled out courtesy of — what else, when dealing with an amateurish page-to-screen adaptation — hammy voiceover!

I’m referring to his real-life AND onscreen daughter, who…um…I’ll phrase it like this:

Any whiff of nepotism raises the bar on an artist-offspring of other artists; if their work is anything less than stellar, the audience will explain their shortcomings with an obvious — and potentially erroneous — answer. If a no-name youngster falls short, do we contemplate, “How’d they get this job?!” But if it’s Sean Penn’s daughter, we don’t even ask.

Relatedly: did Regina King and Josh Brolin end up on the cutting room floor?? Or did they just show up as a favor to Penn? Famous friends, must be nice.

Another kudos owed to Father Penn: he’s a throwback cinematic smoker! I’ll leave it at that, for fear of provoking the rage of outrage.

Two more cliches to add to the hacky voiceover:

  1. You know a female character is in the midst of an identity crisis when she keeps changing her hair color over the course of a movie. And you know she’s found her way when she settles on her natural color.
  2. A movie that ends with a character grazing through a spiritual — and literal — wheat field, with their hand lackadaisically brushing against the stalks.

Oh yeah. Also. Almost forgot to ask:

What the fuck is Flag Day?

Am I a bad American for being unaware?

Oh well.

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