Good Joe Bell Review TIFF 2020

The plot

Joe Bell is a man on a mission. Marching across America speaking to anyone who will listen about the danger of bullying and the devastating effect it had on the life of his teenage son Jayden. Jayden grappled with the harsh realities of being openly gay in a rural American town. A situation as confusing and difficult for his father, leading to him search the open road for answers and perhaps a redemption of his own.

The Good

Mark Wahlberg is well cast as the rugged American archetype struggling to reconcile his undoubted love for his son with the deep discomfort of confronting the public abuse he suffers. It’s a raw performance that strenuously flexes his dramatic talents. Wahlberg’s performance gradually reveals layers of a man struggling to find meaning and purpose in tragedy, literally walking in search of this healing and to escape painful realities.

The film doesn’t shy away from showing Joe Bell’s imperfect nature. Though he clearly intends to be a good father his temper and undue concern for the opinions of others frustrates his efforts to be the supportive and loving parent he intends to be. It’s important for the film to show the character confronting his own culpability and shortcomings as he marches across America trying to teach those that will listen the importance of avoiding toxic intolerance. It lends greater weight to the films message.

Alongside Wahlberg, Reid Miller is a young actor who does exemplary work in making Jadin Bell by turns infectiously endearing and tragically afflicted by abuse. Witnessing the pairs’ real and imagined exchanges depicts a powerful example of love as it was and as we wish it could be. It’s especially poignant as a specific portrait of the challenges that face gay children and their families trying to process the world’s often hostile reaction to ‘difference’.

The film explores the complete interwoven narrative of one family’s journey, from the torment that Jadin suffers through its awful consequences and the cathartic aftermath. Moving back and forth smoothly between different points in this journey is perhaps more effective than a simply linear retelling would have been. It allows the film to be more reflective throughout.

The Bad

Life is often deeply cruel and disappointing, its stories rarely have neat endings or obvious meanings. This film sadly has to work within the constraints of real events which are repeatedly tragic and seemingly senseless. It’s painful viewing and sadly incapable of fully giving audiences the answers and catharsis they may crave. The film has noble intentions but it’s more than any one piece of cinema can possibly achieve to rid the world of intolerance or explain why love is not always perfect or enough to save us.

The film explicitly speaks to the fact that those willing to listen to messages of tolerance and compassion aren’t the problem. So it’s hard perhaps for a film like this to reach the audiences who would most benefit from its message.

While the film speaks to an important issue perhaps the immeasurably complex and deeply personal nature of such topics makes it simply impossible for just one account to adequately sum up that type of lived experience. For this reason the film will undoubtedly resonate more with some people than others.

The Ugly Truth

Good Joe Bell is a sincere exploration of the devastating impact of bullying and the struggle to find acceptance and to accept those we love as they are. Though like life it is an imperfect journey and scared by tragedy it speaks to audiences with a heartfelt weight of loss and the important lessons it should teach us.

Review by Russell Nelson

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