Sunday, May 22, 2011

“Beautiful Boy” – Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class showed its final bonus screening of the Spring Semester, a drama titled, “Beautiful Boy”, starring Maria Bello and Michael Sheen.



A couple struggling with their marriage try to stay together for the sake of their teenage son – but when they learn that he’s been involved in a shooting at his college, will they be able to remain married?



Bill & Kate (Sheen & Bello) are on the verge of divorce – the only thing keeping them from pulling the trigger is their beloved son Sam, a teenager struggling through his freshman year of college.  The couple’s only child, he is the sole focus of their attention when not directed at professional matters.  A shy, sullen young man, Sam seems disturbed in a complicated way that neither parent is able to easily detect in their communications with the boy.  Nevertheless, it comes as a shock to them when they learn that he has died in a shooting at his college – and even further disturbing when they are told that Sam was the one who conducted a massacre of students and faculty before taking his own life. 


Besieged by the media in search of the hottest new story, Bill & Kate flee their home to stay with her brother and his wife while they sort things out.  Ultimately, however, Bill & Kate begin to see that their presence is causing a strain in that couple’s marriage, too, so they leave in order to stay in a motel.  While alone, their focus turns to not only their son, but to the tragedy that he has wrought; each blames the other for the bad parenting that caused this situation, yet they also insist that they are free from complicity in the events that led up to this slaughter. 


Despite some bad memories, they are financially bound to return home – too many debts and creditors chasing them to be able to wallow in self pity for too long.  Finally, they are able to come to terms with the carnage and are able to go back to the house where they spent many years.  But once in their home, can they somehow manage to repair their marriage and return life to some semblance of normalcy? 



Obviously, this is a difficult movie to watch – but not just for the reasons that seem to be immediately evident based on its subject matter.  There are technical reasons, as well.  For one thing, “Beautiful Boy” is shot in a very dark way, possibly the director’s choice to match its mood; as a result, the viewer must strain to see some of the scenes.  Also, the ending of the movie is a bit vague, which causes us to wonder what we are supposed to believe about this couple.  Perhaps the director didn’t quite know the story he wanted to tell or intentionally left the ending open to interpretation – in either case, it feels much like the work of an immature filmmaker. 

While the story is powerful and the performances by the actors match this compelling drama note for note, there are moments when the viewer drops out of the movie at various points.  Will the parents ever regain their sanity or are they forever destined to live in a state of high anxiety?  For much of the movie, we are forced to watch the couple react – or overreact – in a manner that seems unlikely and unbecoming.  Clearly, the actors chose these roles based on the portions of the script where they are allowed to exhibit their talents to their best display – which is fine, but the questions that are posed about such a tragic event are perhaps best left to be handled by a more experienced director. 

The instructor gave a little bit of background about this movie prior to the screening.  Director Shawn Ku – who also collaborated on the screenplay – was inspired to do this movie based on a tragedy in his personal life.  This is fine, but in order to tell a story such as this one, you must know where you want to wind up at the end, which, as I said earlier, is part of the problem with the film – it’s not quite sure exactly what it is that it wants to say about such an incident.  One of the more powerful scenes in this movie is the confrontation between the two parents when they are confined to a motel room; unfortunately, this is undercut by use of a handheld camera which seems to be intended to enhance the chaos, but instead, makes the scene almost visually painful to watch.  Fans of the singer Meatloaf should know that he plays a small role as the manager of a motel at which the couple stays. 


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