Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate’s (Maria Bello) marriage is near the end of its rope. Kate is hopeful that a family vacation is what is needed to get them back on track. Bill, on the other hand, sees the situation as being beyond repair and starts to look into other housing arrangements. Bill and Kate’s relationship takes an unexpected turn when new breaks that there has been a shooting at their son’s school. Hearing that a shooting has occurred at their child’s school is scary enough, but nothing prepares the couple for the news that their eighteen-year-old son, Sam (Kyle Gallner) was not only the shooter; but took his own life when his shooting spree was over.
Beautiful Boy is an emotional look at how loss affects people in different ways. It is even tougher to deal with when it comes as a result of a public event. Bill and Kate where already isolated from each other emotionally and physically. After the shooting, they both found themselves being isolated from the public in general. The media is camped outside their home on a daily basis, and television personalities debate their lack of parenting skills. The general population, who get their information from the press, are quick to vilify them. There is a telling scene in the film where Bill goes to rent a motel room for him and his wife to hideout in and he encounters the owner (Meat Loaf) who is watching the news and verbally expressing his harsh thoughts about the parents...not realizing who Bill is actually standing in front of him. Even Kate’s brother (Alan Tudyk) and sister-in-law (Moon Bloodgood) start to argue over the impact that the couple is having on her own young son.
For a first film, Shawn Ku delivers a surprisingly effective and layered work. Ku is not afraid to take his characters deep into their grief. His script may appear simple on the surface but it offers much food for thought as the film progresses. Shawn Ku also has a wonderful understanding of what is needed to get the most out of his actors. Both Mario Bello and Michael Sheen deliver outstanding performances. While the film is too small to garner the Oscar buzz it rightfully deserves, their work in the film is award worthy nonetheless. Bello masterfully brings out her character’s mix of grief and quest for validation regarding her parenting skills. Sheen brings the right balance of anger and guilt to the role. At first he is the only one who is willing to look at his son’s actions as a crime; yet it is not long before Bill's own inner guilt, for not being there for his son when he was needed most, eventually consumes him.
Although the final act draws out a tad longer than is necessary, it does not take away from the film’s overall impact. Emotionally raw at times, Beautiful Boy does not shy away from the pain that both parents feel. Carried by astonishing performances and skilled direction, Beautiful Boy is one of the better works to come out this year.