‘Joe Bell’ Review: Far Trek
On the whole, audiences don’t go to the movies to watch rude people indulge in tedious pursuits, no matter how noble or well-meaning. And I’ve seen few more boring motion pictures this year than Mark Wahlberg trudging through America as the lead character in “Joe Bell,” a drama that falls with its feet on the asphalt and its heart set on redemption. .
Directed with seriousness by Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film features the true story of Joe, an Oregon factory worker who decides to march to New York in honor of his gay son, Jadin (Reid Miller) . Joe’s mission is to raise awareness of the dangers of bullying, which 15-year-old Jadin endured daily at the hands of cruel classmates before he ended his life. As featured here, however (the screenplay is by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry), the Father’s true mission is atonement.
Flashbacks reveal that Joe is a volatile, conservative dad who is unhappy with Jadin’s direction – and his lonely male visibility on the cheerleading squad – without being overtly homophobic. (He’s also the kind of man who buys a big-screen TV while his patient wife – played by a broke Connie Britton – waits for a new washing machine.) Once Joe is on the road, however, the movie transforms Jadin into a sentimental artifice, a tool to illustrate his father’s transformation from short-fused callous penitent to self-punishing penitent.
Dark and well played, “Joe Bell” is the story of a martyr. Joe’s month-long punitive hike, recounted on Facebook and punctuated by interactions with fanatics and sympathizers, is riddled with home didacticism.
“It’s hard to stay strong in places where there are more churches than gays,” a stranger tells Joe in a film that seems far less interested in Jadin’s suffering than his father’s.
Rated R for homophobic slurs and objectionable behavior. 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.
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