Is it me, or has “Based on a True Story” become synonymous with “Made for T.V.”? A badly executed film based on a true story is just that. Sean Penn’s latest arrived at multiplexes armed with an edict from its star/director aimed at the unjabbed among us: unless you’re vaccinated, stay away from Flag Day. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Why should health-conscious liberal Democrats be the only ones to suffer? And if wellness were really the goal, why not keep it out of theatres altogether and release it on television where it rightfully belongs? What was it about this new project in particular that demanded his attention both behind and in front of the camera? I’ll take “Furthering a Nepotistic Dynasty” for $1000, Mayim. In the brief amount of screen time assigned to him, Hopper Penn masters the art of soft-focus background suffering. He’s even permitted to cry along in an adjoining room during a shaky-cam family screamfest. (Take it from Dad: suffering’s no fun for an actor unless they’re allowed to agonize in close up.) But at its core, this is a father/daughter melodrama. Junior Penn is going to have to wait his turn; it’s big sister Dylan Penn’s chance to shine. The real Jennifer Vogel, upon who the film is based, collaborated on the script with Jez Butterworth, and it’s her character’s growth and Dylan Penn’s performance that hold the film’s only allure. Note to filmmakers with kids: relinquish control. It’s okay to hook family up with friends in the business, but don’t prod the progenies. When it comes to co-starring and/or directing, leave the driving to someone else. (2021) — Scott Marks
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