Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Age Appropriate for: 17+;This movie is appropriate for older teens and adults. The perpetual grief, anger and confusion of the main characters can really only be appreciated by more mature audiences, and these themes would likely bore younger teens anyway. There is also one prolonged sex scene and brief nudity. There is some occasional swearing, including the f-word.
‘Beautiful Boy’ depicts two parents who struggle to reconcile their loving memories of their son with the tragic crime he committed. While the parents’ grief is intensely felt, the film’s plot and dialogue is at times unfortunately predictable and uninspiring.
By Hannah Anderson
“Beautiful Boy” is about two parents, Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello) who are on the verge of separation and wake up one morning to the news that there has been a school shooting at their son’s college. The police show up at the door with the news that Bill and Kate’s son, Sammy (Kyle Gallner), opened fire on his classmates and teachers before turning the gun on himself. The rest of the movie documents Bill and Kate’s struggle to cope with the loss of their son and to comprehend what led Sammy to commit such a terrible act of violence. Bill and Kate are also forced to see past their differences and lean on one another because they are the only ones who can begin to understand what the other is going through.
This movie frustrated me. Throughout the entire film I kept looking for clues to why he did it. Why did Sammy kill 17 of his classmates and teachers and then himself? What experiences did he go through that produced so much rage inside of him? I wanted this movie to shed light on the ‘why’ aspect of the tragedy. I wanted answers. By the end of the film, however, I realized I was not going to get any. Sammy had a very typical, seemingly uneventful childhood, and I left the theater as perplexed about school violence as ever.
However, I now realize that this film purposefully avoids addressing why Sammy did what he did. The true beauty of this film is in not knowing why this tragedy occurred. Maybe they did not give an answer, because there is no answer. Maybe the inner rage that leads someone to commit a heinous crime such as a school shooting cannot be understood, and maybe the source of this anger cannot be pinpointed. But, what is known is that when a tragedy like this occurs, the pain and confusion is overwhelming and everyone is left trying to rationalize the irrational. In the end, it doesn’t really matter why Sammy did it. All that matters is that it happened and that those affected are left broken and confused, trying to figure out how to accept what happened and to move on with their lives.
Bello and Sheen do a very good job portraying the pain of losing their only son, the anger at themselves and each other for not being able to see it coming and the frustration at not knowing why he did it. Gallner also does a great job as the disturbed Sammy, and once again shows just how well he has mastered the angsty teen look.
However, their convincing acting is, at times, overshadowed by the film’s weak points. The beginning of the film is too quickly paced to allow us to build up adequate sympathy for the characters, and the plot is too predictable to be all that interesting. It seems as though writers Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku simply took four of the five stages of grief, surrounded them with dialogue, and, viola, they had their plot. Some of the dialogue between Bill and Kate is boringly predictable as well. At one point, when they blame each other for causing their son’s breakdown, they use the stereotypical excuse that Kate was a controlling helicopter mom and Bill was an absent father, never around to spend time with Sammy.
In spite of the predictability of the plot, the brilliant opening scene was one of the film’s major redeeming point. Beautiful Boy begins with what appears to be a home video of Bill, Kate and Sammy playing on the beach. While the video is playing, a narrator reads a poem about how the beach is sad because it knows that this is the last time it will see the happy family frolicking by its shoreline. Sammy turns out to be the narrator, reading aloud a poem he had written. I kept coming back to this scene throughout the movie, because the intense sadness and hopelessness presented by the poem is the only insight into Sammy’s mind that the audience is presented with, and when the same poem is read at the end of the film, it demonstrates the importance of hope and healing and the disastrous effects of hopelessness.
Overall, this movie tells a predictable story, but tells it very well. If you are in the mood for a tear jerker and like going into a movie knowing exactly what to expect, this movie is for you.