Bill and Kate are in an emotionless marriage with their only son away at college. They knew he didn't sound happy but then comes the news that he was the mass murderer at his school killing 17 professors, fellow students and himself. They try to move on with their lives but they are held back by their own grief and the fact that the media and everyone around them view them as monsters. The more they fight it, they realize they only have each other. Written by
Beautiful Boy is not a fun movie to watch. Although arrestingly realistic, it can be a pretty painful ordeal to endure. In fact, it feels like such an immaculate representation of what it must be like to live through a horrific tragedy that one feels uneasy, restless, and depressed for hours afterward. So know that going into the theater.
As the story begins, a college freshman named Sammy is calling his parents at home to check in. Mom Kate (Maria Bello) is a typical concerned parent, wanting her child to do well; Dad Bill (Michael Sheen) asks is Sam needs any money and is doing well, and he hangs up. The next morning, the terrible news: Sam has shot 18 students and teachers in his college before killing himself.
The movie wisely shows us nothing of the massacre; its focus is on the aftermath. Kate and Bill are staked out by the media. They escape to her brother's house to live with him, his wife, and their young son. They are vilified on television and online, particularly on Sam's Facebook. Their parenting is constantly questioned. In short time, they are questioning themselves: Did they make this happen? Kate and Bill had been drifting apart for some time, to the point where Bill was actively looking for a new place to live. The tragedy doesn't immediately bring them together, and it doesn't immediately drive them farther apart. Rather, they each drift some more, apart not just from each other but from reality. They blame themselves. They blame each other. They don't blame anyone. They continue on.
There's hardly a note in the movie that doesn't ring true. These characters are not caricatures, and they aren't archetypes, either. Both Bill and Kate seem completely believable, and with the tragedies in places such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, they are characters who very much feel like they could be living next door to us right now. That they are trashed and widely hated is understandable, and luckily neither character lacks the self-awareness to grasp why people are so mad. Bill reasons that the public wants to believe that the couple feels bad about what their son has done. They do, of course. They show their deepening anguish in different ways, but their devastation is complete. Their lives are seemingly ruined.
But this is not a movie without any hope. The subject matter is gruesome, but it's not tiresome. What we see are real reactions from realistic people. There are no real good guys, just a couple of people who've suddenly lost their way. Whether they regain it is almost immaterial, just as it's almost immaterial whether they regain it together. For us, it's the journey from their discovery through the passage of a week or so that's the true endgame. Neither does the film wallow in sentimentality for the sake of making us feel good. The true moments of joy are fleeting, just as they can be in real life. Even a dark movie can contain passionate performances.
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