Thursday, April 14, 2011


Directed by: Shawn Ku
Written by: Michael Armbruster, and Shawn Ku
Starring: Maria Bello, Michael Sheen, Alan Tudyk and Kyle Gallner

In this day of Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, Foursquare, and what ever boundary breaking social media sites are next, we have cultivated a constant need to have access to insane amounts of information.  Whenever a tragedy happens, we hear about it as it's happening with unprecedented speed.  And when we see a criminal or a killer on the news, we always are quick to demonize these people.  But what about the other people on the receiving end? Without getting too political, BEAUTIFUL BOY explores the aftermath of a couple dealing with the fact that their son shot up his college then committed suicide, and the media's relentless quest for an interview or answers. All while, the couple is dealing with their broken marriage.   This movie was relentlessly powerful, and while it never has a "breaking" moment meant to make you tear up, the weight of the emotions being displayed by the actors can be felt through this beautifully shot movie.

BEAUTIFUL BOY stars Michael Sheen and Maria Bello as Bill and Kate Caroll.  As we see in the beginning of the story, their marriage is slowly falling apart. Bill is looking for apartments around town, and he has even found a good place near his work, while Kate is desperately trying to book a vacation to the beach with him and their son Sam (Gallner), who is away for college. After a brief and detached 3 way call, we see Sam going to bed.  Then, the next morning, tragedy of his actions hit the news, and the parents are hit face first with what their son has done. What follows is one of the most frustratingly difficult situations anyone could ever experience.  When you see that the world calls your son a psychotic villain and you know him as something else, how can you even begin to deal?

There are tons of issues and questions that movie brings up.  A big issue is obviously the way that the media hounds the Carolls relentlessly to answer questions about their son.  You get a very sympathetic look here towards the parents, as they try to recover from the shocking news. They have to flee their home to Kate's brother's house for some privacy.  Then you have the Facebook messages on Sam's wall, the video that Sam sent to the authorities, and every loudmouthed Glenn Beck-type wanting to put concrete blame to the situation. This media assault and the constant stream of information coming up about Sam is what keeps the tension high through this whole movie and creates a very claustrophobic effect.  Even people just making offhand remarks about Sam seem to take a toll on Bill and Kate.

For a movie with a very small and personal scope has some incredible cinematography.  There are very deliberate shots that take place during the movie that are just breathtaking, and even something as mundane as a fight is done with just the right amount of zoom on a face or a pan to the other side of the room.  Adding to that, there's a strange effect going on through the whole movie that Jonesy and I noticed (which I liked but she hated).  A very cool pitch shifting effect or a constant tremolo technique on the score during some of the more intense parts of the movie, and I liked this so much is that I took it to symbolize the couple's very unstable mental state during this tragedy.

On the surface, a lot of the great emotional lifting during this movie is done by Ms. Bello because Kate is meant to be a more emotionally open character unlike the very reserved  Bill.  All of this gives Michael Sheen a lot of very interesting scenes where he has to bottle up a lot of emotions and restrain himself.  I am always a person that believes restraint is a lot harder to pull off artistically.  This is not meant to say that one actor is superior to the other, but in my opinion, comparing the two is like apples and oranges.  Alan Tudyk was actually a very pleasant surprise in this pretty dire movie.  He plays Kate's brother, who offers the grieving couple a sanctuary in his home as the media is camped outside of the Caroll's house.  His upbeat humor and support are exactly what the couple and the audience needs as to keep the movie from being a downer of BLUE VALENTINE proportions.

The biggest problem with this movie is that the focus is a bit off.  In the beginning, there's a big focus is made on the media and their relentless approach to get answers from the Carolls.  But that subject is not explored nearly as much I would have liked.  I'm not sure what it's trying to say about media coverage of tragedies like this; maybe the public's need to place blame on someone when things go wrong?  Obviously, we only see things from the Caroll's perspective, so there's not a rounded out view on the issue being presented.   Another issue that gets raised is who is to blame? Is it the parents? Sam? The environment? Though the movie may not want to tackle these issues directly, it sure felt like it was going there for the first part of the movie.

This is a movie that you just can't randomly go see.  You have to know what you're getting yourself into, but if you appreciate a challenging story full of very strong performances, this is something you need to check out.

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