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Beautiful Boy

2011-06-03 12:52
What it's about:

A married couple on the verge of separation are shattered when they learn that their only son committed a mass shooting at his university before taking his own life.

What we thought:

The tragedy of mass school shootings in the US has made for intriguing cinematic material in the wake of the Columbine high school massacre in 1999 (Gus Van Sant's Cannes Palm d'Or winner Elephant, and Bowling for Columbine - Michael Moore's documentary on gun control). Beautiful Boy offers an unnerving glimpse inside a family unit dealing not only with losing their child in this manner, but also the horrifying fact that he was responsible for it.

Who's to blame? Were they not good enough parents? Did they unwittingly raise a monster? Could they have seen the signs earlier and prevented it? These are just some of the difficult, distressing questions Bill (played by Welsh actor Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello) have to grapple with as they try to come to terms with their grief and disillusionment.

Not only are they finding it almost impossible to even face the reality of their son's actions and the pain it has caused countless other families who lost loved ones by his hand, they have also become the focus of the national media who are hounding them for a reaction. It's especially hard to find a way forward when theirs is a marriage already not so much on the rocks, but DOA.

It's an impossible situation and Beautiful Boy director and co-writer Shawn Ku takes familiar themes of loss, regret, suffering, and boldly - and successfully - takes unexpected paths to some kind of reconciliation and closure. The movie abstains from sensationalising the sensational events which drive the plot and keeps it developing within Bill and Kate's relationship. They flee the press and the pressure and abandon their home, which ceased being a home long before their son decided to unleash his rage on the world, and stay with Kate's brother Eric (Alan Tudyk) and his young family. When Kate's particularly controlling methods begin to wear on Eric's wife, they go on the run, finding refuge in a faraway motel room, where they build a new world for themselves and are forced to, perhaps for the first time, deal with the 20-year journey that has brought them there.

What's most remarkable is that Bill and Kate are still unable to comfort each other, even in the face of such unimaginable tragedy, and the immersive ordinariness of their broken relationship makes for uncomfortable but compelling viewing.

Sheen and Bello are both fully committed to their roles and deliver powerful, emotionally raw performances. Even as their pain comes spilling out in torrents of vitriol and blame, they remain grounded in their journey back to each other and it is a more rewarding moment for it. Highly recommended.

An uncomfortably compelling drama that looks at the aftermath of a couple whose son commits a mass shooting at his university, before killing himself.
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