Shawn Ku’s film “Beautiful Boy” is one of those films that’s well made, well written and lends some terrific acting but won’t leave you with much more then a sentimental made-for-TV movie feeling. All in all it’s a nice subtle picture about a married couple’s struggle to get through the loss of their son.
The married couple is Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello), whose marriage takes a turn for the worse when they find out that their son Sam (played by droopy faced, sad eyed youngster Kyle Gallner) has committed a mass shooting at his university before taking his own life. However, their marriage already seems to be on the rocks before the devastating event.
The main reason being that they sleep in separate beds. They go about their day making small talk to each other but you get the sense that they don’t really want to be with each other because they share many awkward scenes. They devote, or at least they try to devote, most of their energy toward Sam and his needs, as any parents would do. Like in the beginning, when Kaye and Bill get in a brief argument because Kate really wants the three of them to go on a family vacation.
In a way “Beautiful Boy” is similar to the 2010 film “Rabbit Hole” in which Aaron Eckhart and Nichole Kidman play a married couple dealing with the loss of their son. But “Beautiful Boy” is much darker. Mainly because Kate and Bill’s son is college age and takes twenty other innocent people with him, so there is a whole other level of hatred and negativity that they receive from other people and that they inflict on themselves. Plus each scene is tinted in a dim, gritty light, leaving you with a cold, deathly feeling.
Ultimately, the main theme in the movie and in other movies like this is that life goes on. Even though this is a tragic event you have to pick yourself back up and keep going. So that’s what Kate and Bill do. They continue with their daily activities, going to work, cleaning the dishes, putting on a happy face when interacting with others.
But moving on with your normal life is a difficult thing to do. The two can’t help but wonder why this happened. Why did their perfect son do such a terrible thing? They start off trying to convince themselves that it’s not their fault but eventually cave in because of guilt and the fact that they’re the ones who raised him. And finding a tape of Sam apologizing to his parents before the shooting doesn’t exactly help them get over it. The reason why Sam does the shooting is never explained but as the movie progresses you can probably draw your own conclusions.
Unfortunately, while all this stuff is touching, by the middle the film it begins to get a bit repetitive. There are only so many times one can watch people crying and having violent outbursts. The movie simply runs out of fuel and limps to a somewhat predictable ending.
The main thing that keeps the movie going is the strong performances by Bello and Sheen. They play their roles so convincingly that their intentionally awkward scenes make you feel uncomfortable and feel their pain. And they do share a few sweet moments, like when they decide to stay in a hotel for a while and they fool around, getting drunk and eat vending machine snacks for dinner. It’s a nice change from all the grieving and mourning scenes and gives them some more personality.