Sean Penn stars as a director and actor in 2021’s Flag Day. Co-starring alongside him is Dylan Penn. A screening of the film took place in the competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021. United Artists Releasing is scheduled to release on August 20, 2021. The movie has received mixed reviews from critics.
What Happens in the Film?
“Flag Day,” based on Jennifer Vogel’s biography, “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life,” begins with a subtle and lyrical scene. A series of new songs written and performed by Cat Power, Eddie Vedder, and Glen Hansard add grace and intimacy to Flag Day. These new songs take us back to Jennifer’s story as the film shifts from John’s celebrations to his introspection. Jenifer’s story focuses on “Flag Day,” with Dylan Penn letting her father play the flashy roles while keeping the film grounded in her quiet struggles to cope with her life and household.
Tonal shifts, along with the inherent difficulty of portraying a movie where emotions are so explosive, become more completely understandable: Jennifer is looking for peace, and John is driven by desperation, and the movie isn’t afraid to explore both. But, unfortunately, neither is ever always accomplished in “Flag Day” as it veers between melodramatic portraits and intimate character studies. (The director Penn cannot comprehend why his kids prefer Bob Seger; for example, the film relies at least as much on its energy as on Seger’s “Night Moves”).
Penn may occasionally go over the top, but his character John Vogel lives his life over the top: While he appears to be not as bright as a mastermind counterfeiter, hustle is so embedded in his being that he is incapable of speaking claptrap. He even admitted something to his daughter in seemingly confessional talks. Her father’s strange behavior leads to a flashback to an over-the-top blowout, and another leads to Jennifer unexpectedly catching her father on the phone talking to a Jaguar dealer on an unplugged phone.
Jenna’s voiceover narrates the blurred and flashed memories of the past. And in a way, Penn is describing his role in the film as irresistible bluster John Vogel, whose actions always reveal the blind panic that drives him.
Dylan Penn, Penn’s daughter, plays Jennifer in flashbacks when she is a child and then a young girl, while Jadyn Rylee and Addison Tymec play her as a teen. A police detective interviews Jennifer Vogel, a father of two, after being arrested for printing counterfeit currency worth $22 million. There are a few overly florid passages and some visual overstatement, but for the most part, Penn–as well as Joseph Vitarelli, who composed most of the score–is attempting to convey subtly.
Should You Watch it?
It finds a way to work despite being messy and not seamless. However, the film also develops a similar dichotomy as it proceeds: Penn’s restraint often can’t help but creep into melodrama when the material calls for it. Dylan Penn also makes a strong impression as a young woman trying to make sense of all the fiction her father has been telling her for so long that she feels compelled to be a columnist.
Early in the film, the screenplay begins to repeat itself as it involves constant turmoil, new beginnings, and rejection, followed by so much screamed rage that it becomes unrecognizable. There could have been quieter moments in the film, like the touching goodbye between Jennifer and Nick, in which Nick feels deserted but realizes that his sister has no other choice. The film would have been saved from mainstream clichés with a personal touch. Nevertheless, it is neither memorable nor particularly moving, given the stakes involved.