There are a myriad of movies about losing a child. And though it's a promising route for an Oscar nomination (think In the Bedroom), it's a concept so unthinkable, it's kryptonite for a mass audience.
But, as the harrowing Beautiful Boy illustrates, there is something worse -- to lose a child in the process of his committing a horrible crime.
Beautiful Boy is an ordeal to watch. But it puts you in the place of two people suffering a double-ordeal of their own, excruciating loss and public condemnation. It is a mood dampener of the first degree, but it's a rarely told story at a time when this type of tragedy is becoming tragically ordinary.
As the movie opens, we meet Bill and Kate (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello) sharing a phoneline with their uncommunicative son Sammy (Kyle Gallner) at his college dorm.
The vibe, subtly acted all around, suggests tensions between the husband and wife. Sammy is clearly depressed, but the emotional wall between the parents and their son is so strong, neither parent bothers to ask point-blank what's wrong. (The more passive, "Is everything all right?" is less than effective.)
Bill brusquely cuts his end of the conversation short, claiming fatigue and falling into bed. Kate, vaguely troubled, listens to some non sequiturs about all snowflakes having six sides, says she loves him and hangs up.
The next day, the movie effectively begins. The news is ablaze with reports of a gunman at Sammy's school. Soon there's a death toll. And soon there's word the shooter -- who also killed himself -- was Sammy.
What follows is a soup of indignation, awkward pity and even condemnation (they turn on the TV to find one of those commonplace news channel anger-mongers denouncing the kind of degenerate it takes to raise a monster). Their house is a media circus (and later becomes a target for break-ins). Bill and Kate become a couple on the run. People pretending to be friends turn out to be opportunists looking for tabloid fodder.
But the overriding image -- a metaphor for one of the movie's underlying themes -- is the inevitable social-network manifesto that Sammy leaves behind, the angry screed of a troubled misanthrope who clearly is a stranger to both Bill and Kate. Can your child really hide such a dark face from you for a lifetime?
Their time on the run forces Bill and Kate to look at each other, sometimes savagely, and search, pretty much in vain, for clues as to how they messed up as parents.
Director/co-writer Shaun Ku coyly plays games with our need for explanations. When a mendacious writer insinuates himself into Kate's confidence and a dinner invite, she notes it's the first time anybody's sat at the table for a family dinner in years.
A-ha! Everybody knows families should eat together. A second later your brain tells you this is a triviality and certainly not a recipe for creating a mass murderer. The same goes for a moment of maternal control-freakishness that Kate recalls from Sammy's childhood, presented as a revelation, when in fact it's equally ridiculous.
Ultimately, Ku's dalliances with faux "reasons" echo The Boomtown Rats' similarly themed I Don't Like Mondays. Sometimes there are no reasons. More Movie Reviews