Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg in Joe Bell.
Photo: Roadside attractions
It’s hard to argue Joe bell without revealing a first key twist in Joe bell, so let’s get rid of the non-spoiler stuff first: Based on a true story, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film is about a father (Mark Wahlberg) trying to walk from his hometown of La Grande, Oregon, to New York en in order to spread an anti-bullying message after her teenage son Jadin (Reid Miller) was bullied at school for being gay. Wahlberg is sometimes quite emotional on the part of a man who isn’t quite sure how to do the right thing but knows he should be doing something. However, the film’s fairly relentless focus on Joe at times gives little weight to Jadin’s own story.
This is the brief review. The longer and spoiler version is more complicated. Those who know the real story of Joe Bell will know that his son Jadin was not just bullied; he committed suicide at the age of 15 as a result of the homophobic abuse he suffered. In Joe bellIn the opening scenes of, however, we see Jadin walking alongside his father on his trek across the country, noticing the scenery around them, tasting grilled wild asparagus, singing Lady Gaga songs, laughing at the preference. of Joe for Dolly Parton rather than Cher. It wasn’t until a visit to a gay bar that Joe revealed – to a Dolly Parton impersonator, of course – that his son had died. The boy who walks by his side, in other words, is a ghost.
Much of what we think Joe bell will light up what we think of this twist. Some will surely find him manipulative. That’s for sure. But the films manipulate; it’s just part of what they do. And the very idea of a father walking alongside an imaginary, still-living version of his deceased son is agonizing. After his reveal at the bar, Joe returns to an empty motel room – a room that was filled with Jadin’s lively presence two scenes earlier – and we feel the measure of his loss.
We could also notice that the boy walking by his side is not Jadin but an idea of Jadin. More precisely, an idea of Jadin still held by his father. During a stop in a restaurant, Joe surprises some fanatics then hands them a brochure and leaves quickly without eating. Ghost Jadin reproaches him for not having kicked the asses of these men. It’s a weird moment and it doesn’t sound like something the child would say. So when we realize that it is not Jadin but Joe speaking to himself through Jadin, that man’s inner world begins to become sharper.
The real trip in Joe bell isn’t the one Joe is doing across the country but rather the most introspective one he hasn’t taken on yet. In the flashbacks, we see that good old, fairly conservative boy Joe didn’t know how to deal with his son – how to deal with the boy joining the cheerleader team or his refusal to engage in macho rituals, like watching football on TV. The father professes some sort of half hearted support, but he is clearly embarrassed by his child. When he says “I love you” to Jadin, it sounds like a threat.
This same psychological block dominates Joe’s trek. He walks relentlessly, delivering speeches in high school gymnasiums and bingo halls in an aggressive, monotonous tone. He’s in a hurry because he doesn’t really walk across the United States; he runs away from himself. He didn’t think about the role his own attitude of not asking, not telling could have played in helping end his son’s life. Wahlberg (who himself had violent and bigoted incidents in his youth, which may or may not have influenced his decision to make this film) excels at playing this kind of driven, thoughtless character. He has a harder time when Joe finally does emotional displays, but at least he gives it a try, which is a welcome sight for those of us who have always loved him as an actor.
Joe bell was written by Diana Ossana and the late great Larry McMurtry, who also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Ang Lee’s brokeback mountain. This 2005 film is vastly superior to Joe bell, but we can see a strange continuum between them. The angry, contemptuous sneer that we see at the end of Brokeback on the face of Peter McRobbie, playing the father of the late Jack Twist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is listed as an executive producer on Joe bell) never left me. Joe bell attempts to portray a different kind of grieving father – just as incomprehensible, at least at first, but much more compassionate and human. If the idea of making a movie in 2021 about a man struggling to come to terms with his son’s homosexuality doesn’t seem particularly fresh or relevant – well, it’s probably true, but we may also want to keep an eye out for it. many countries all over the world refuse to donate Joe bell correct release.
Artistically, however, the film faces the same spiritual challenge as Joe Bell the character – he doesn’t really see Jadin. And unlike Joe, the film never really reaches self-awareness. We get a glimpse into the son’s life in a flashback, including a brief, underground romance with a boy from the soccer team. But we’re still waiting for a full sense of Jadin as a person instead of a vision of him simply as a victim, a supporting actor in his father’s acceptance story.
The problem with Joe bell doesn’t he tell the story of Joe; it’s an important (and tragic) story that should be told. The problem is, he doesn’t also tell Jadin’s story – even after pointing out that Jadin’s journey is inextricably linked to Joe’s. It is not simply a question of representation but of dramatic weight. A fuller picture of Jadin would have broadened the film’s sense of tragedy and also made Joe’s transformation more visceral. As it is, Joe bell is a sometimes moving film that misses its chance for greatness.