Harlan Jacobson reports from The Cannes Film Festival 2021: Sean Penn's Flag Day

CANNES, Tuesday July 20 –
By Harlan Jacobson

Flag Day, directed by Sean Penn, concerns the Family Vogel, late 20th century Minnesotans, played by the Family Penn, Sean as John Vogel, his daughter Dylan as Jennifer Vogel and son Hopper as son Nick, both from his time with Robin Wright.

The story is based on a book by Jennifer Vogel that starts in the mid-70s as a kid, when her father was a dervish of dreams, a classic working class American luftmensch, a man living in the air. Her mother gets stuck with cleanup. After one failure too many, they split, leaving Patty (Katheryn Winnick) to be the responsible parent. She falls instead first into the bottle and then into the bed of some goober naturally named Doc (Norbert Lee Butz), given to pedophilic appetites worse than his assault on consciousness. Pretty standard set-up.

The film isn’t just about families living with a Charismatic besotted by the American Dream of living big with no disciplined path to get there. Jennifer Vogel’s story is about her determination to flee out and up as an investigative journalist. That she does it without the resources of the middle-class university feminist education is the point. She’s outside of that, she does it without social support.

Penn, whom I have had a certain onscreen weakness for in the past, doesn’t miss a chance to exploit every element of Jez Butterworth’s script filled with big kitchen and jailhouse battles, personal soliloquies, and setting suns (over Manitoba, as it turns out, which came through with tax breaks to simulate Minnesota) underscored by songs that serve as onscreen character balloons.

Over the course of its 108 minutes, it’s Dylan’s story but Dad Penn is going for the Daily Double here: young woman up, old dad, and by extension, dudes, down. Told with empathy to be sure, but with a radioactive dose of multiplex and Oscar-consciousness all around. Not happening. Unfortunately for the film, this is exactly the kind of Hollywood project that should avoid the Competition at Cannes. The crowd can smell blood. (Aug 20 release in theatres.)