A notebook of links and commentary on film and the arts, with occasional stabs at understanding current events. A mix of the serious and the silly, and with a special emphasis on Ms. Natalie Portman.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
On Demand: Beautiful Boy
A film like Shawn Ku's Beautiful Boy needs a new genre, a descriptor that accurately puts in context what we have here. Two name actors (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) put their all into a film with serious intentions that at least takes a stab at some kind of social relevance, but the result is so underwritten and half-baked that the film's straight-to-video and on demand fate was really the best that could be hoped for. Bello and Sheen play Bill and Kate, a couple whose idling marriage receives a shock when their son Sammy (Kyle Gallner) commits a mass murder at his college and then kills himself. There's a brief scene of Sammy reading what appears to be a short story to his indifferent classmates, but that and a snippet of a videotape he makes (a manifesto in the style of the Virginia Tech killer) are all the insight Ku gives us into the character. Bill and Kate flee media and attention and search for answers in a hotel interlude that plays like a Raymond Carver short story, but despite a lot of arguments it's hard to buy any of the accounts we get of what went on earlier in the marriage and in Sammy's adolescence. Maria Bello is an underrated actress who breaks down admirably here and Sheen makes Bill into a dogged American workingman, but neither has enough to work with to make Beautiful Boy as moving as it wants to be. The late discovery of a second video feels like a cheap device to get a reaction from the characters. Beautiful Boy gave Bello and Sheen a few weeks work, but their fans should know it's only a diversion between their higher-profile projects.