Being the daughter of an ex-Marine, I remember well my father dramatically sharing fantastical stories of being in the ‘corp’ and how I would literally hang on his every word. He was my hero and made life as little girl magical, fun-filled and never a dull moment. As adulthood set in, I realized that my father has a reality where making up stories is based on his own brand of reality. One time in particular, he would consistently tell a story about a limo coming to pick me up for a USO Tour. Problem is, there was no limo, only my fellow cast-mate in her brown Honda Civic. When I asked Daddy why he lied, he simply stated that his version sounded better than the truth.
Jennifer Vogel’s father John was larger than life. As a child, she was fascinated with his charismatic energy and ability to make life feel like a grand adventure. Through him, she learned so much about love and joy, but had no idea the same person she hung the moon and stars on happened to be the most notorious counterfeiter American history.
Directed by Sean Penn and starring him and daughter Dylan Penn, Flag Day is an intimate family portrait about a young woman (Dylan Penn) who struggles to rise above the wreckage of her past while reconciling the inescapable bond between a daughter and her father John (Sean Penn). While screening this I was fiercely reminded of an ABBA song, “I Have A Dream” whose lyrics sum up this film perfectly…
I Have a Dream, a song to sing
To help me cope, with anything
If you see the wonder, of a fairy tale
You can take the future, even if you fail
Special flashes of memories are like fairytales and in Jennifer’s version, her father was a Prince. Cut to the summer of 1975. Vogel’s mom often characterized John as Peter Pan, because of his childlike abandon to make reckless decisions. Yet, this same man would burn down the world if he thought it would put him in the lane of the rich and famous. Sean Penn utilizes wonderful imagery that melts into the script along with the soundtrack comprised mostly of Bob Seger and classical Chopin creating the perfect dichotomy of the life John Vogel leads.
The still, unsettled calmness in Penn’s face throughout, while inhabiting John Vogel, reminds audiences of the maturity and range this actor continues to exude. Like my dad, Vogel believed if you describe something well enough anyone can see it. Jennifer Vogel accomplishes exactly that with a screenplay resonating so vividly, that I needed to compose myself from sobbing. Moments like seeing her dad in the rear view mirror while leaving him and having that replicated early on as she and her little brother ride away on a bus away from their father broke my heart, yet so subtly and adequately describes this troubled kinship. Loved the attention to detail down to the costuming with background characters in a parade crowd during Flag Day all dressed in variations of red, white and blue.
Dylan Penn is beguiling, strong and resilient as Jennifer Vogel. Her performance is absolutely stunning to watch as she embraces every nuance and every luminous moment with a committed veracity and high voltage energy often associated with her famous parents. Yet, she is commanding her own space on her own terms and is quite stellar while doing so.
It’s very rare that we see relationships between daughters and dads. When we do witness this onscreen, it is often a romanticized point of view. Flag Day lets it all hang out with the good, the bad and the in-between. As a Daddy’s girl, we love them unconditionally, but sometimes have to protect ourselves in the process – a process that can be as harmful or as productive as one is willing to allow.
John’s downward spiral, begs the question of whether the death of a parent drives one to a secret place creating a kinship to the dead. Maybe, but in the end, John Vogel obtained his freedom and as a result allows Jennifer to become free as well.