Filmmakers have explored the subject of school shootings in the past, but first-time feature director Shawn Ku finds a unique perspective on this delicate issue. Rather than focusing on the tragic incident and the events leading up to it, “Beautiful Boy” confronts its devastating aftermath. Moreover, the killer is almost entirely absent throughout the film. In his place, we look through the eyes of his parents, who struggle to find refuge from the public and from media backlash, while overcoming their own sudden loss.
In two of the most heartrending performances in recent memory, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen play parents in a rocky marriage who are hit with the shocking news that their 18-year-old son has committed a mass shooting at his college before taking his own life.
With a maturity and comprehension beyond his years, Ku (who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Armbruster) shows remarkable insight into two middle-aged parents faced with unspeakable anguish. Separated from the rest of the world by this incomprehensible act, they find their marital troubles gradually taking a back seat to the traumatic situation thrust upon them.
Credit must also go to the film’s stellar supporting cast, who add further weight to this difficult story. Moon Bloodgood, Alan Tudyk and Meat Loaf Aday are perfectly cast as bystanders to the slow-burning wreckage at hand.
“Beautiful Boy” is fearless. It defies convention to shed light on something that many similarly topical films have shied away from. The result is a bleak yet rewarding experience that dares to challenge not only its audience, but also previous investigations of this dark subject. [Synopsis by Jane Schoettle/Toronto International Film Festival]