TIFF Journal: ‘Beautiful Boy’ – Depressing But Moving

Tragedy is the order of the day in ‘Beautiful Boy’. Michael Sheen and Maria Bello star as a fairly typical suburban couple, having marital difficulties but trying to keep things together. Their lives are torn apart when news comes that their son has gone on a shooting rampage at his college, killed 20 people, and then killed himself.

They have absolutely no idea why this happened. They don’t seem to be bad parents. The mother is a little smothering and the father a bit emotionally distant, but nothing that looks like the breeding ground for a mass murderer. The son was known to be shy and maybe acted somewhat depressed in recent months, but gave no obvious clues as to what he had planned to do.

The story is told entirely from the parents’ perspective. They’re forced to lock themselves away from the world in the aftermath, to escape the prying eyes of the press and the angry parents of other victims. They try to piece together the story of what their son did and why in any ways they can. Was he mentally ill? Did they miss the signs? Was this their fault? What did they do wrong as parents? Unfortunately, these are questions they may never be able to answer.

This is an actors’ piece. The performances here are outstanding, especially Bello’s. Alan Tudyk and Moon Bloodgood turn up in understated supporting roles. Kyle Gallner has only limited screen time as the son. (This is the parents’ story, not his.) For some reason, Gallner always seems to get typecast as homocidal teenagers. I swear, he’s played this same role in ‘Veronica Mars’, ‘The Shield’, ‘Bones’, ‘Life’, and ‘Law & Order’. (That last one twice, as different characters!) I guess he’s got it down to a science at this point.

The film may not tread any new ground that hasn’t been explored previously, but it’s an emotionally devastating character drama and an impressive debut feature from director Shawn Ku.

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