Beautiful Boy screened at the Dallas International Film Festival 2011 as a Centerpiece Screening. The film centers around the aftermath of a couple who find out their son is dead after a college shooting rampage. The unique twist of this film is that the son was also the shooter and was responsible for the deaths of the students.
Maria Bello and Michael Sheen portray Kate and Bill Carroll. Bill is a businessman and Kate is a book editor. The film opens with a home video of Bill, Kate, and their son, Sam. Sam is still little and the trio is frolicking on the beach having a good time. The film then shifts to present day. Sam is off at college and Kate and Bill are leading separate lives as their marriage has fallen apart. They sleep in separate bedrooms and only have brief interactions with each other. The day before the shooting occurs, Sam (Kyle Gallner) calls from college. Kate senses that something is wrong with Sam by his voice, but like most teenagers, Sam says he is fine.
The world that Kate and Bill live in implodes the next day with news that there has been a shooting at Sam’s college. They repeatedly call Sam’s cell phone, but only get his voicemail. The answer to their question arrives on their doorstep. Two detectives tell them that their son is dead and that he was also the shooter. It is bad enough that your son is dead, but to realize that he is the cause of other parents’ grief is hard to comprehend. Shortly afterwards, the media start calling and showing up on their doorstep. They escape to Kate’s brother’s house to avoid the media and the scrutiny. Like you would assume, they start to analyze what they did wrong in raising Sam.
This is not a feel-good movie. It is not something you get excited to see based on the subject matter. What this movie is about is addressing a subject that has recently become an issue with the Virginia Tech shooting and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. While we may hear from the victims’ families, the criticism falls onto the shooter’s family. How do they feel? What did they do wrong? Did they know? Beautiful Boy gives the audience a look at the other side, the side that is often unfairly condemned while knowing next to nothing about the family.
Aside from the story, the tour-de-force acting by Maria Bello and Michael Sheen is the star of this film. They had to undertake an enormously depressing, complex story. They had to express their characters grief, anger, denial, and how they tried to move on, only to be pulled back into grief yet again. Their characters also felt shame for what their child had done. Considering their marriage was already a mess before Sam’s death, they had to then act like they were still together and put on a united front. Bill and Kate Carroll both deal with their loss in very different ways. The most poignant scenes take place in a hotel room that the couple escapes to after they feel they have outstayed their welcome at the brother’s house. It is in these scenes that you realize how talented Michael Sheen and Maria Bello are as actors. Not every actor you see in movies these days could pull off such a performance.
There are not many characters in Beautiful Boy as the film keeps its focus on Bill and Kate. Kate’s brother and wife are played by Alan Tudyk and Moon Bloodgood, and they serve as the support and shelter after the shooting occurs. They also have to deal with what to tell their son Dylan (Codi Wai-Ho Lee) about what happened to his cousin and the taunting he receives at school because of his cousin. Meat Loaf makes a surprise appearance in a small role as a hotel manager who comes off self-righteous at first, but redeems himself in the end.
Beautiful Boy came out of co-writer/director Shawn Ku and co-writer Michael Armbruster’s experiences. Ku had a friend who died at his home unexpectedly and had to deal with telling his friend’s parents. The film is also influenced by the Virginia Tech shooting. Although the subject matter is not uplifting, it is entirely relevant based on current events and what can happen with the unrelenting media and the immediateness of social networking sites. We tend to forget about the other side and how horrible those parents must feel about what has happened. Maria Bello and Michael Sheen so thoroughly lost themselves in their roles. There had better be some kind of acting achievement award out there for them. They deserve it.
In the end, Beautiful Boy is very raw and truthful. It does not sugarcoat the subject matter. There is no happy ending.
I give Beautiful Boy 4 “red pens”out of 5.