We’re about 35 minutes away from the uneven drama “Joe Bell” when there’s a moment destined to be a major reveal – but it’s based on something that was covered extensively in the news in 2013, so it’s no surprise, and worse, it’s handled in an awkward and unnecessarily brutal way that makes us feel bad for a minor character that’s only in this one scene.
This is indicative of the general scheme of Reinaldo Marcus Green’s well-intentioned and well-filmed yet underwhelming drama, which is based on a true story and features a script by the wonderful team of Diana Ossana and the late great Larry McMurtry, the winning duo. the Oscar for “Brokeback Mountain” 16 years ago.
We have great empathy for the lead character Mark Wahlberg, a father who swore to walk from his small hometown of LaGrange, Oregon, to New York City to raise awareness after his 15-year-old son Jadin, was bullied for being openly gay, and ultimately took a life of his own. When we see ignorant sportsmen tormenting Jadin, when a deaf counselor suggests that Jadin change schools as if It is The problem is, when Joe stands on stage in a crowded auditorium delivering his message, we stand behind Jadin and Joe every step of the way, but it’s a shame that so many of these scenes are so heavy and predictable. “Joe Bell” never really has the dramatic punch that the real story deserves.
Looking scruffy and slightly out of shape (at least to him), Wahlberg gives one of his most entrenched performances as Joe, a working-class husband and father in a tight-knit community and not particularly progressive. Joe loves his wife Lola (an underutilized Connie Britton) and his children, but he has anger issues and is hardly sympathetic when Jadin talks to him. He says it might just be a phase, advises Jadin not to share this information with anyone else – and when Jadin and a friend (Morgan Lily) practice their cheerleading routines on the lawn, Joe is mortified and orders them to do these kinds of things in the yard where no one can see them.
Reid Miller is a revelation as Jadin, who knows exactly who he is and isn’t about to change or even pretend to change just to make others less uncomfortable. He’s a bright, handsome, sweet and creative boy who just wants to leave this backward city and go to school in New York. But Jadin has also been battered by cruelty, bigotry and hatred – and while his mother backs him up, his father is in denial and has checked out, for example, Joe leaves a football game in embarrassment rather than defending his son when he jerks off. start throwing things at Jadin.
Joe’s epic march is meant to encourage tolerance, but it’s as much about his own redemption as it is about his Facebook campaign, which has garnered national media attention. Lola wonders if Joe himself has really changed, even after everything the family has been through, and that’s a valid point. At the end of the film, Gary Sinise appears as a state soldier who lends a sympathetic ear to Joe, leading to the best scene in the film, when these two middle-aged machos share their stories. If only the rest of the movie had struck an equally authentic and more subtle tone, “Joe Bell” could have been something special.