Beautiful Boy

9 Jul

Title: Beautiful Boy
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Shawn Ku
Writers: Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku
Starring: 
Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, Kyle Gallner, Meat Loaf
MPAA Rating: 
R, some language and a scene of sexuality
Runtime: 
100 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 
69%

 

The death of a child was a subject touched upon rather incredibly in last year’s Rabbit Hole, that film I gave an A- to, it ended up ranked as my 30th favorite film of 2010, and Nicole Kidman’s performance in it I had as my 5th favorite from a leading actress last year, and Aaron Eckhart’s I ranked as my 7th favorite from a leading actor. By which I mean, the subject of losing a child can make for some seriously powerful films, and deliver some truthfully gut-wrenching performances. Now, Beautiful Boy is about the death of a child, but one that happened after the son of a couple has gone on a murdering spree at his campus before taking his own life. That obviously adds a whole new sense of dimension to the trauma confronted thereafter by the parents of said child, so I was really looking forward about how this film, which counted with two very talented actors in the roles of the paralyzed parents, would portray this sensation of loss and of coping with what their son has done.

And even though this one ultimately is nowhere as gripping or great as Rabbit Hole was, it’s still a very good film, because it makes you think hard about that situation, imagine you yourself having a kid who commits this horrible act and then takes his own life, there really is no correct response to it all, what do you do to cope, how do you feel about both your son’s loss and the acts he committed right before it, what does it reflect upon you as a parent. Those are all questions Beautiful Boy poses, and it gives us a glimpse right at the start of a time when the boy was alive, so that we get a look at him, and it presents us with your very stereotypical insight at a kid most movies would suggest would go on to commit such acts of horror, he was super shy, he never seemed to cause any problems, lives in a house in which his parents weren’t really communicative with each other and were seemingly falling apart as a marriage. And on his last night he called them from his campus, and you see him pretty much at the border of tears, as if he were calling for help, but not his dad or his mom seems to take notice of this quiet plead.

But this film isn’t about the son, it’s about the parents. Imagine them, in the morning watching TV and hearing about a shooting at their son’s campus, then imagine them receiving a knock on the door from a very serious-faced man, upon that sight they know their son has died, but just imagine when the man tells them there’s more, that their son was the shooter. And Michael Sheen and Maria Bello are given the task of playing this set of parents, Bill and Kate, who don’t really have the chance to grief ordinarily, as they are promptly being harassed by reporters trying to get a statement out of them. At work people start looking at Bill, wondering about him, and his boss tells him he should take a break from work. Kate starts losing herself in her work as an editor. They move out of their place to live with Kate’s sister and her husband, but that doesn’t work out, and they end up relocating to a motel.

And it’s fascinating to see these two having only one another, these two people who not that long ago were on the verge of  divorce and they only have each other, and they are left alone in the world with the questions between them, wondering how much of this was their fault, what they did, how they should feel. And that’s really the one problem I had with Beautiful Boy, the fact that it asked too many of these questions instead of just letting us watch the two grief, and I guess that in that grief of theirs those questions will pop up, but these are questions that don’t really have an answer, and by not finding an answer there’s really no closure, and not getting much closure in a film like this really bugged me. And I guess that that’s really how this would go in real life, that this sort of story only can end with the two eventually getting on with their lives with probably little to no visible or tangible cathartic release, but in a film like this I wanted that sense of catharsis.

But even though I had that little problem, about there not being answers to the many questions, at least the people we had asking these questions were Maria Bello and Michael Sheen. Because Ms. Bello is a terrific actress who is just insanely good at playing these women with huge emotional traumas masking them behind a tough exterior, and Mr. Sheen is given the less flashier role, but in a way an even harder one to play, because Bill is a guy who’s just flatly ordinary and is thrown into this very dire circumstance and he has to shoulder most of the load, and he just does some very good things with the role. But yeah, as good as the performances may have been, consider me not totally sold on Beautiful Boy because it didn’t say much at all, and if you’re gonna go ahead and make a movie that feels so uncomfortably claustrophobic in its exploration of deep emotions then you have to go all out and make something like the masterpiece that was Blue Valentine, and this one, good as it may have been, just isn’t that great at all.

Grade: B

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