There are enough school shooting films out there at the moment that they are threatening to become a sub-genre unto themselves. Elephant, Bowling For Columbine, Polytechnique have all won major awards and Uwe Boll has made one as well. So enter freshman filmmaker Shawn Ku who gives us a film, Beautiful Boy, which is torn on two fronts. On one hand it struggles to transcend clichés as a hand-held realistic and grounded drama, and on the other it wants to throw plates, obsessively scrub gravestones and have its principle characters do enough body-shaking crying so as to rival a belly-dancers funeral. There is a good film struggling to get out past a few bad writing choices, screenplay feels just a tad overwritten. Bolstered significantly by top shelf performances from its leads, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen (doing an American accent quite well), the two play the grieving parents, Bill and Kate, of freshmen college student Sam. Sam is killed in a columbine style school shooting and Kate immediately knows her son is the victim when the cops come knocking at the door. But both parents are flabbergasted when they discover that it was their son who shot all of his classmates before turning the gun on himself.
Bill and Kate are middle-aged, middle class parents, and they have their problems. Bill is considering moving out of the household on a trial separation due to a lack of communication or passion in the household, but their issues are not outside of the bounds of any family at the hump of the middle class distribution curve. They may not have been the best parents in the world, but they are hardy the worst. Thus the shock of sort out why their son did this violent crime and even left an angry manifesto-styled video for the news media. There is little time to consider this in the quiet of their own home which soon becomes the campsite for hundreds of media vans desperate for grist for the mill of the 24/7 news cycle. Taking refuge at the home of Kate’s brother (Alan Tudyk) for a time until the dust settles. Kate’s Brother’s wife Trish and her 8 year old son immediately complicate things however. The young boy sees things on the news and at school and starts asking question nobody is prepared to answer. Every gesture and action of Kate towards the child or even sharing of the household chores becomes a moment loaded with unconscious judgment and guilt on both sides. The awkwardness of this new relationship, on top of everything else is palpable for all parties, despite the desire to ‘be helpful.’ Kate’s brother actually keeps a quite level head about things, he can almost make an inappropriate-but-not-malicious joke to himself as if to acknowledge that the situation “just is” and that we all deal with as best we can. Kate and Bill eventually move into a hotel room to pick up the pieces of their present situation and difficult future ahead.
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