True confession time. Now, this first one is obvious. I’m a gay man. Now for the one that most people don’t know. When I was 17 years old I was diagnosed as suicidal. That is not a pretty combination of growing up gay and suicidal while living in a small-minded town. As part of the Two Gay Geeks, we have a regular message where we speak out on behalf of those in the LGBTQ community, and even all those throughout the world, that there are resources for those who need help. There is very little that is more tragic than suicide, and sometimes there is very little that is more evil than the causes that bring about suicide. That’s why it was important for us to take a close look at the new movie starring Mark Wahlberg titled Joe Bell.
Joe Bell is walking from his hometown of La Grande, Oregon to New York. He doesn’t appear to be alone. He is accompanied by a young man we quickly learn is his son Jadin. Joe is talking to anyone and everyone along his journey about bullying and how important it is for parents to unconditionally love their children. When someone asks Joe about his son he reveals that Jadin is dead from suicide. Through flashbacks, we come to understand the brutal intimidation and bullying that Jadin was forced to suffer. Even when he asked for help from his family, his father was largely absent when it came to receiving support. Joe is all caught up in his own emotions until the moment of tragedy finally occurs and now Joe has to deal with the aftermath of his son’s death. It is this journey that he takes, not only to spread the message about the evils of bullying and the tragedy of suicide, but he is on his own mission to understand the pain that forced his son to do the unthinkable.
As Joe Bell, we have Mark Wahlberg who did a stunning job as the working-class father from a small town who will not show his pain to anyone, least of all himself. He initially comes off as a rather one-note character, but that is due to how Joe Bell is written here. He’s practically withdrawn except for flashes of a nasty temper, making Wahlberg seem to be without any depth. However, one flashback shows him dealing with an initial moment of pure grief (which was very brief, but heartbreakingly authentic). Later, Wahlberg has a powerful scene where he expresses how sorrowful he is and it is thoroughly gut-wrenching. This is no one-note performance. Wahlberg is unquestionably an incredibly strong actor.
Joe Bell gives us a surprise with Gary Sinise, a sheriff who also has a gay son. His performance is quietly intense as a father who has had difficulty coming to terms with his son’s sexuality. One interesting bit of trivia is that Wahlberg wanted Sinise to appear in this film, but Sinise was retired from acting. However, when he read the script he jumped at the chance to be part of this project.
The biggest treat this movie has is young actor Reid Miller as Jadin. Not only does he look like the real Jadin (pictures of Jadin Bell are shown during the closing credits), his acting went beyond anything I’ve seen in some time. He keeps his performance very tight and controlled, but when circumstances reach Jadin’s breaking point Miller’s acting becomes nothing short of brilliant. His performance demonstrates what a person goes through when they have reached the end of their rope and there is no hope left. What he shows us is genuine and tragically real. This is what our suicidal youth are facing today through bullying, both through physical altercations and social media. However, the best magical moments are the scenes that Wahlberg and Miller share, whether it is through flashbacks or during Joe Bell’s walk towards New York. These are scenes that show Joe Bell coming to terms with his son’s death through conversations he’s having with an imaginary Jadin. Each time we see them a new layer is stripped away as Bell gets closer to the truth. Wahlberg and Miller are perfectly brilliant together. It is their shared scenes that make up the heart of this film.
Joe Bell is a beautifully tragic movie. The performances speak of unconditional love, and the message against bullying should be shown in every school and organization. In a world where blockbuster movies rule the roost, and with this movie’s down-to-earth production values and through the roof acting, Joe Bell is a cinematic masterpiece.
Joe Bell receives 5 out of 5 Stars.
From filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green (MONSTERS AND MEN; upcoming KING RICHARD), along with the Academy Award-winning writing team behind BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Diana Ossana & Larry McMurtry) and Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg, JOE BELL tells the intimate and emotional true story of an Oregonian father who pays tribute to his gay teenage son Jadin, embarking on a self-reflective walk across America to speak his heart to heartland citizens about the real and terrifying costs of bullying. Newcomer Reid Miller (as Jadin), Connie Britton and Gary Sinise star alongside Wahlberg. JOE BELL will be released exclusively in theaters on Friday, July 23, 2021.
ONE-LINER: The true story of a small town, working-class father who embarks on a solo walk across the U.S. to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay.