Beautiful Boy

This Ain't Gonna Have a Happy Ending

         
 

08 June 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Darkly compelling and scrupulously invested in realism. You won’t find anything more downbeat than Beautiful Boy anytime soon, but if you are intrigued by the exhaustive nature of grief then it might grip you. Michael Sheen and Maria Bello play longtime parents to one son who goes on a shooting rampage of dozens of innocent students before taking his own life. Bill and Kate, the parents, are without answers as to why their son committed such a homicidal act. They thought that they were good parents. It must be hard for parents to rebound and get back to a sensible way of life again, you would think, just start first with how they will be heldaccountable for their son’s acts. It’s actually much harder than you would have thought before seeing this. The social handicaps are merciless.

Bill and Kate might have mistaken that good marriage and good parenting don’t necessarily have to go together. There doesn’t seem to be a strong threat that they are going to split (only a hint at divorce), but there is a sense that they could have been happier elsewhere. As long as they gave their son Sam anything he wanted, it should have been fine, right? But following the massacre (not shown), the parents don’t grieve together but instead grieve alone. Initially they are prisoners inside their own home while news vans remain parked outside indefinitely. Following Bill’s apology letter to the press, they finally get out and go to stay at Kate’s brother’s house. Alan Tudyk and Moon Bloodgood play the brother and sister-in-law, offering whatever piteous comfort they can to deflect Bill and Kate’s heartache.

Part of the pain is finding something constructive to do on a daily basis. Bill wants to call into work, but stays home. Then he calls in, is told to take time off so he does. Kate is a book editor but with only one assignment impending, and the writer of the manuscript who is paying her is, well, fascinated with Kate and her grief. Without real work or customary tasks at hand, Bill and Kate seem to have an unspoken understanding that the right thing to do is… to try to come closer together. Underneath that accord lies hostility, and the two find inappropriate behavior in one another. Bill wants to deal with his son’s Facebook account, student loans and credit cards which Kate finds insensitive and the wrong time (“When dammit is the right time?!”). Kate wants to keep a CD-rom recording that contains their son’s final message which Bill finds atrocious.

Civility between husband and wife is prevalent during the course of “Beautiful Boy,” but you hold your breath with anticipation that an alarm is going to go off at any time between Bill and Kate. The screenplay fearlessly considers how one parent, as opposed to the other, might love their son despite the bloodshed caused. This is the brink of a marital destruction scenario once the finger-pointing starts. Surprisingly, a sweet sex scene between Bill and Kate at a hideout motel presumes that these two will attempt a reconciliation of their lives (“We can’t continue [hiding out] forever”).

The other interest of the film is the acting. Maria Bello can do marriage indignation anytime as she proved in “A History of Violence” (2005). But you can’t tear your eyes away from Sheen who is as brave an actor as there is today. Is there anything that Sheen can’t do? Well, if you thought there wasn’t, that he lacked the ability to burrow himself in unfathomable pain, well “Beautiful Boy” is the one that proves he can. He’s a comic delight as a loquacious pseudo-intellectual in “Midnight in Paris” which is also current in theaters. He was uncanny as Tony Blair in “The Queen” (2006). And I never could figure out why Frank Langella was Oscar-nominated for “Frost/Nixon” (2008) while Sheen wasn’t, even though he is the rooting, striving heart of that film. For the final shot of “Beautiful Boy,” the resplendent Sheen is not reaching out. He’s asking for a hand to reach over to him. It’s part of his luminous capabilities as an actor that we understand his shift in character via one minor subtle gesture. This may be one of the indications as to why he is underrated.

100 Minutes. Rated R.

DARK DRAMA / ATROCITIES / WINTER DESPAIR

Film Cousins: “Lacombe Lucien” (1974, France); “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea” (1976); “The Butcher Boy” (1997); “Elephant” (2003).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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