centers around one of the ultimate nightmares of any parent.
middle class couple has grown somewhat estranged – they interact
distractedly and have separate bedrooms. They are staying together mostly
for their son. The one thing they do agree on though is their boy, a
quiet and brooding boy who they try to dote upon even as he has just moved
away for his freshman year in college.
Sadly the malaise
has set in enough that even when they listen to him, they don’t always
Then, one day after a particularly awkward telephone conversation with his
parents, their son walks onto campus with two shotguns and starts shooting.
Suddenly the couple – who were already on shaky ground – has to deal with
mourning for their son as well as the haunting knowledge that someone they
had raised could somehow have become a mass murderer. Add to that fact that
everyone that they know is watching them to see how they will react –
perhaps trying to glean some understanding of what happened, perhaps merely
through a voyeuristic curiosity as to how someone copes with such a
Meanwhile, the couple is trying to figure out how this little boy they knew
came to such a place. Inevitably, they wonder if somehow they failed as
parents. Was there something that they could have done that might have
changed the outcome? How could they have not seen the signs that their son
had become this unhappy and desperate? Or had they seen warnings and
basically ignored them out of love for their son?
an audience, we never get any real understanding of why their son did what
he did – but that makes dramatic sense, as the parents probably wouldn’t
the shared tragedy drive them further apart or will it bond them together as
survivors of an experience no one else they know can comprehend? Or, for
that matter that even they can’t?
incendiary stuff – heartbreaking and frustrating and terrifying and
has taken on a powder keg of an issue. Perhaps one that is too complicated
and nuanced to explain away in a 100-minute film. Frankly, I’m not sure it
could ever be satisfactorily clarified.
filmmakers tease this problem with the only partially ironic title – despite
the rest of the world seeing their son as a monster, the parents have years
of emotional baggage with him that is nearly impossible to just jettison
despite their shock and disappointment at his final acts.
However, the film does as good a job of capturing the earthshaking
contradictions in these lives as it could.
is mostly due to the searing performances of Michael Sheen and Maria Bello
as the stunned parents whose comfortable-if-slightly-stale world suddenly
explodes with no real warning.
makes a conscious decision to limit our information on the son – obviously
he looms large over the action, but this is the story of the parents, not
of the son’s crime.
Surviving as the parents of a sniper is not a totally new idea for a film –
Marcia Gay Harden was heartbreaking as a mother in a similarly-themed
section of the anthology film American Gun – but it is a story so
heart-rending that it can not help but be fascinating.
Ultimately, Beautiful Boy leaves more questions than answers and
there is no true catharsis for the main characters. In a situation like
this, that is sadly inevitable.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: June 3, 2011.