BEAUTIFUL BOY (2011)
Starring Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, Kyle Gallner, Meat Loaf Aday, Darren O’Hare, Deidrie Henry, Cody Wai-Ho Lee, Austin Nichols, Nigel Gibbs, Bruce French, Kelli Kirkland Powers and Logan South.
Screenplay by Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku.
Directed by Shawn Ku.
Distributed by Anchor Bay Films. 100 minutes. Rated R.
Beautiful Boy centers around one of the ultimate nightmares of any parent.
A middle class couple has grown somewhat estranged – they interact distractedly and have separate bedrooms. They are staying together mostly for their son. The one thing they do agree on though is their boy, a quiet and brooding boy who they try to dote upon even as he has just moved away for his freshman year in college. Sadly the malaise has set in enough that even when they listen to him, they don’t always hear him.
Then, one day after a particularly awkward telephone conversation with his parents, their son walks onto campus with two shotguns and starts shooting.
Suddenly the couple – who were already on shaky ground – has to deal with mourning for their son as well as the haunting knowledge that someone they had raised could somehow have become a mass murderer. Add to that fact that everyone that they know is watching them to see how they will react – perhaps trying to glean some understanding of what happened, perhaps merely through a voyeuristic curiosity as to how someone copes with such a devastating incident.
Meanwhile, the couple is trying to figure out how this little boy they knew came to such a place. Inevitably, they wonder if somehow they failed as parents. Was there something that they could have done that might have changed the outcome? How could they have not seen the signs that their son had become this unhappy and desperate? Or had they seen warnings and basically ignored them out of love for their son?
As an audience, we never get any real understanding of why their son did what he did – but that makes dramatic sense, as the parents probably wouldn’t either.
Will the shared tragedy drive them further apart or will it bond them together as survivors of an experience no one else they know can comprehend? Or, for that matter that even they can’t?
It’s incendiary stuff – heartbreaking and frustrating and terrifying and unfathomable.
Beautiful Boy has taken on a powder keg of an issue. Perhaps one that is too complicated and nuanced to explain away in a 100-minute film. Frankly, I’m not sure it could ever be satisfactorily clarified.
The filmmakers tease this problem with the only partially ironic title – despite the rest of the world seeing their son as a monster, the parents have years of emotional baggage with him that is nearly impossible to just jettison despite their shock and disappointment at his final acts.
However, the film does as good a job of capturing the earthshaking contradictions in these lives as it could.
This is mostly due to the searing performances of Michael Sheen and Maria Bello as the stunned parents whose comfortable-if-slightly-stale world suddenly explodes with no real warning.
Beautiful Boy makes a conscious decision to limit our information on the son – obviously he looms large over the action, but this is the story of the parents, not of the son’s crime.
Surviving as the parents of a sniper is not a totally new idea for a film – Marcia Gay Harden was heartbreaking as a mother in a similarly-themed section of the anthology film American Gun – but it is a story so heart-rending that it can not help but be fascinating.
Ultimately, Beautiful Boy leaves more questions than answers and there is no true catharsis for the main characters. In a situation like this, that is sadly inevitable.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 3, 2011.