Beautiful Boy
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Beautiful Boy

Like and true form of artistic expression film can be used explore the issues and concerns facing the audience. Cinema can run the gamut from light hearted entertainment to as serious treatment exposing the problems of our society. This approach can also make for an enjoyable evening but after the credits roll and the lights come back on you are left with a lot to ponder. Movies like this will reverberate in your mind for a significant period. One film that exemplifies this important aspect of the film is ‘Beautiful Boy.' As dramas go, it is a tautly prepared movie that will let you see a difficult and frequently painful issue we face as a culture; school shootings. Since the 1999 schools shooting at Columbine High School, many filmmakers have attempted to address this, but in the majority of cases, the focus has been centered on the deeply disturbed teenagers that perpetrate these heinous acts. The most notable difference with the film under review here is the vantage point chosen by the filmmaker. Rather than concentrating on the circumstances that bring a teenager to this ultimate anti-social act ‘Beautiful Boy’ moves past the targeted act of violence by considering the aftermath most notably the lives of the parents who are forced to live with the consequences of their son’s lashing out against the world. Your immediate reaction to this tact might be ‘who cases, they raised a monster,' but the film pushes the story to s much deeper, emotional level that many may never think about. The thing is this is an important point of view to examine. While there may be parental influences contributing to the etiology of this deadly sociological phenomenon, there is no doubt that the parents of a school shooter will have to face their tribulations in the aftermath of their child’s murder spree. At times this is a difficult movie to watch. While it might be possible to emotionally distance yourself from films that detail the morass of psychological problems that drive someone to mow down students and teachers, it is much more arduous to emotionally isolate yourself when the targeted subjects are readily identifiable problems most married couples encounter. This discomfort generated by the perspective of the movie is also its greatest strength. It dissects a family in crisis in a dramatic, straightforward fashion.

Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate Carroll (Maria Bello) have been married for much of their adult lives, and as is the case with many such modern unions their relationship has been going through what is euphemistically referred to as ‘a rough patch.' They have been growing apart for some time, but lately, the distance has become an insurmountable gulf. Part of the growing gap is their dedication to their jobs permitting it to eclipse their interaction. Bill has a corporate desk job while Kate proofreads books; both are occupations demanding attention to detail they can’t muster to the survival of their marriage. The tipping has been reached, and the breakup that has been simmering has come to a boil. Just as the dissolution of their marriage is interrupted by unexpected and tragic news; their son Sammy (Kyle Gallner), has murdered some people. This was his freshman semester at college, but suddenly something inside snapped resulting in Sammy shooting five people on campus to death and injuring several others before turning the weapon on himself taking his own life. Bill and Kate regrettably overwhelmed by the ensuing media circus that enveloped their lives. The Carroll’s try to muster some support from Sammy’s older brother, Eric (Alan Tudyk) and his wife Trish (Moon Bloodgood) but their efforts are hampered by the inability to address the underlying issues plaguing their relationship. Bill and Kate want little more than to retreat deep within their selves but this is denied them due to the media’s obsession with thriving on the suffering of others. The dissolution of a marriage is a deeply personal time, but now Bill and Kate has become the target of this unrelenting need to document their suffering. This unwanted attention forces them to undergo a personal reflection of how they brought up Sammy. Kate has been hyper critical of her youngest son feel the need to highlight every flaw and mistake. They have to wonder just how much their parenting contributed to the mental disintegration of their youngest son. This is the sinister side of nature versus nurture debate as people they never meet lay the blame for Sammy’s shooting spree directly on their shoulders as his parents.

One of the most incredible aspects of this film is the fact that represents the first feature film for writer/director Shawn Ku. Previously he worked on a made for television flick, ‘American Mall,' a lighthearted romantic musical comedy concerning the high school set. To take on such an emotionally intense and potentially controversial topic so early in his career is quite a bold move. Pulling it off as well as he does is a strong indication that Ku is on the verge of becoming one of the filmmakers to wield considerable influence in the independent film community. His co-author for the screenplay, Michael Armbruster, is also just starting out with this is an initial opus. Together they have crafted a genuinely moving story that surrounds you in an ocean of empathy. You might want to blame them for the misery and pain their son inflicted; it is natural to need some definitive figure to blame. Since the parents remain alive, they become the natural target. The film does not make any attempt to exonerate Bill and Kate, but neither does it free them completely from their part in how their son turned out. Ku has tackled an immensely complicated and difficult subject, and wisely he does not pretend to offer answers. Some issues remain enigmas beyond the keen of understanding. The emotional impact of your child turning into a publically reviled killer is something that lies beyond understanding. Ku uses his talented cast to best effect. I have been a staunch fan of actress Maria Bello for some years. She is the type of actress who is not afraid of taking on the most challenging role. Bello has portrayed characters with human frailties taking their faults and transforming them into personality traits the audience is quick to understand. She is brave enough to accept roles of characters that are not bright and beautiful eschewing parts of that sort for grippingly realistic women with texture. Michael Sheen offers the ideal counterpoint to Bello’s noteworthy performance. He brings an innate intensity to Bill that will stay with you for a long time to come. It is hard to watch at times/ but altogether a meaningful film critical to understanding our time.

Posted 10/09/11            08/03/2017

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