Beautiful Boy, like last year's Rabbit Hole, is a story about tragedy and the way those affected deal with it. Here, Michael Sheen and Maria Bello play the parents of Sam, a freshman in college who, for reasons the film doesn't get into, commits an unspeakable act of violence at his university. As his parents struggle to cope with their loss, they wonder if they can move on and if they will ever be the same.
Beautiful Boy is exactly as heavy as it sounds, so don't go into it expecting anything but a tearjerker and an uncomfortable experience. Kyle Gallner, who was featured in Red State and Little Birds, two impressive Sundance films this year, is haunting as Sam. Michael Sheen and Maria Bello, two rightfully praised actors, do a great job as well. Although Beautiful Boy doesn't maintain its intensity throughout, the film has enough brute emotional power to sustain the audience's attention long enough.
Unfortunately, the biggest scene of the film, a confrontation in a hotel that the entire movie has been building toward and on which the entirety of the film rests, is only marginally effective. The shaky-cam direction, which was a little bothersome before the hotel scene, suddenly becomes unbearable and the writing takes a quick dip into standard “marriage fight” Hollwood fare. The scene improves as it develops, but for several minutes, we can't see the action, we wish we couldn't hear it and we wonder why director Shawn Ku, who has up until this point drawn the curtains back and allowed us to see the story unfold, suddenly throws us into the action like we're in The Blair Witch Project or something. I think some viewers will like this aspect of the scene, but I couldn't stand it and felt like it detracted a lot from what is clearly the most important scene of the film.
Don't get me wrong, though: Beautiful Boy is a solid movie, and if you're in need of a good cry, you can certainly count on this one to get the leaks started.