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Beautiful Boy (Blu-ray Review)

17 Oct, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Anchor Bay
Box Office $0.08 million
$26.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for some language and a scene of sexuality.
Stars Maria Bello, Michael Sheen, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, Kyle Gallner, Meat Loaf Aday.

One always experiences a natural curiosity about movies that end up getting polarized reviews from major critics — by which I do not mean the ones who get fleetingly quoted on TV in typeface smaller than what drug manufacturers employ to list possible side effects of erectile dysfunction products.

For a current example of such pro vs. con, the Rottentomatoes.com breakdown for Beautiful Boy is all over the place — and having finally seen the film on a Blu-ray that looks as drab as the inevitably depressing story it relates, there’s no difficulty in understanding why.

For if the viewing experience is drab, you can’t really say that it’s necessarily false to the central event being portrayed. The movie opens, after a few prelims, with a portrayal of any middle-aged parent’s worst nightmares: a mass shooting at a college your son or daughter attends. Then it gets worse when a pair of suits show up at the front door, and suddenly it’s obvious, before anyone speaks, who the perpetrator was.

Mario Bello plays the mother here and Michael Sheen (getting a breather from Brit-oriented biopics) the father; both characters are making their way through a marriage no longer very functional in the first place. We’ve seen the son call on the phone the night before, when neither parent picked up on (or simply shrugged off, as anyone might be wont to do) what could have been construed as red flags: depressed vocal patterns and the youth’s left-field discourse about the shape of snowflakes.

It’s difficult for me to see how any marriage could survive an ordeal like this one — but matter of fact, I’m acquainted with one couple whose marriage did survive something pretty close. More power to both parties.

Shell-shocked and looking for past signs, the two show themselves fallen into behavioral patterns that are, in fact, too common to be regarded as clichés. First, there’s a husband absorbed in a job that probably paid respectably enough for the employer to demand full attention (read: resulting emotional distance at home). Accordingly, the wife compensated and became the official “planner” of events, perhaps becoming something of a son-smothering force in the process.

Amid the recovery process, Bello’s isn’t exactly dealt a fair hand — something that debuting director Shawn Ku and his co-writer Michael Armbruster incisively do without making a big deal of it. They give Sheen’s character an office he can go to (even if his decision to do so ends up not working out) and pickup basketball games he can utilize to blow off steam and tension. Bello, however, is a freelance editor — generally a sedentary/solitary calling aside from interacting with any writer colleague. And in this case, the writer she’s aiding ends up doing her a grave disservice (and even that’s a kind way to put it).

You have to admire the filmmakers for having the nerve to take this story all the way — with recriminations between the principals, parasitic media at the doorstep and family relatives who want to help until the fallout begins making it difficult to get on with their own lives. But it is tough trying to figure out to whom, beyond maybe Maria Bello completists (a worthy calling), one could recommend the picture. Or why it’s so tempting to avoid self-flagellation and simply opt for a more soothing Rod Cameron Republic on ENCORE’s Westerns Channel.

And getting back to the muddy visuals, you can’t expect Boy to boast the look of cinematographer John Bailey’s exemplary work for 1980’s Ordinary People, a big-budget Oscar winner about family depression whose DVD version I just saw again a few weeks ago. But you do wonder how much subsidiary harm a Blu-ray this washed-out does to the format’s wider acceptance. The dirty secret of Blu-ray is that a lot of releases don’t look as if anyone broke any sweat putting them out — even if it’s also true that Citizen Kane and Ben-Hur (to name two recent home viewing “events”) probably haven’t looked as great since their opening nights respectively 70 and 52 years ago. This disparity bums me out almost as much Ku’s admittedly nervy attempt.

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