I saw the trailer for Beautiful Boy a few months ago, and was immediately determined to get a copy for review. After experiencing secondhand the trauma of the Virginia Tech shootings, as some of college age friends were in school there at the time, I was intrigued by the prospect of viewing such a tragedy through the eyes of the killer’s parents. Sure, quite a few folks wanted to drag their lives out into the spotlight at the time, even blame them, but their lives were ripped apart by their son’s decision, just as the families of his victim’s were. So, what would the film have to say about suffering, tragedy, blame, and everything else as portrayed by the parents here, Bill and Kate (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello)?
The couple’s marriage is already “on the rocks” before their son commits the crime, but their responses are intriguing. Bill wants to keep moving, as if he can actually dodge the impact of the hurt that his son’s decisions has caused, while Kate wants to deal with it, talk about it, work it out. Neither one of them have a solution that the other finds feasible, but their solution doesn’t work too well for them individually either. Bill and Kate can’t fathom why their son would do this, and the hurt continues to linger as they try to figure out what life looks like now.
Just as important to the flow of the movie are the ways that the people around them respond. Bill’s company provides him with ample time off, but the feeling is that they would just as soon not have his bad press around; the news reports paint the couple as the creators of a murderer; Kate’s brother (Alan Tudyk) proves supportive while his wife (Moon Bloodgood) sees the couple’s inclusion in their son’s life as a danger; and then, of course, there’s the church.
It’s bad enough that kids do stupid stuff, like telling the couple’s adolescent nephew that he’s going to hell just like his cousin. But the minister of the church recognizes a couple who lost their child as a victim of the shooting, and fails to acknowledge that two families lost children that day. And the culmination of those accusations spoken or not is something that Bill and Kate can neither run away from or talk out. Somehow, it has to be lived through and survived.
I was surprised that the movie didn’t move me as much as I expected. I really thought, based on the trailer, that I’d be torn up almost instantaneously by the tragedy. It’s not because the Brit Sheen fails me as the middle American dad or that Bello’s usually hard as nails (see: Prime Suspect). Maybe it’s because Kate and Bill are already struggling, and we don’t see them as the “perfect” family dealing with an unimagineable blow. But that’s pretty unfair, isn’t it? We’re all broken, in pieces, and where we come to rest usually has a good bit to do with who we have to help pick us up. Kate and Bill don’t seem to have anyone, really; the poignant message left on his dead son’s phone after the fact shows us that we’re all out of touch with who we want to be and where we are today.
I won’t make too much of their reconciling over “bread and cup” although it seems like a viable meaning. It’s not the only way they “commune” then, but there’s a reminder there that they are first husband and wife, forsaking all others. They have to learn from each other about moving forward and recognizing that their world is re-prioritized. Finding healing means healing each other first, and figuring out what everything else looks like that afterward, but it isn’t a lesson which comes readily here. It’s just a shame that the church wasn’t a viable part of that process.
Special Blu-ray features include deleted scenes and commentary from the writer/director, cinematographer, and editor. I’d definitely say the story deserves consideration. You might just learn something about yourself, your marriage, or what you can do when tragedy strikes someone else. Learning something from this fiction might prevent some other tragedy in reality.