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Toronto Disptach: 'Beautiful Boy'

I have a running joke with several of my friends who regularly attend film festivals that every fest has to feature at least one "dead kid movie." It sounds harsh, but it's true--the parents grieving over the loss of a child has become a film fest staple, particularly at Sundance, where films like "The Greatest" and "Welcome to the Rileys" could practically create a new genre. So I went into "Beautiful Boy" at Toronto with some trepidation. All I knew is that it stars two of my favorite actors, Michael Sheen and Maria Bello, as parents coping with their grief after their son is killed in a campus shooting. What unfolded was one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in a theater as of late.

Every time I thought I could predict where "Beautiful Boy" was going, it surprised me, starting with the revelation that the son is actually the shooter. From there, the film continued to defy my expectations. Take, for example, the fact that this is not a happily married couple who find their lives turned upside down--at the start of the film, they're considering divorce. There's also a scene where they realize they're in the same room as a woman who's child was murdered by their son--you keep waiting for a confrontation, but it never comes. The script, by director Shawn Ku and Michael Armbruster, is too good for that. It never feels exploitative or predictable. It trusts in silence to speak volumes, such as the expression of the woman whose parenting skills are criticized by Bello; we know exactly what she's thinking: "You're the one who raised a killer." The restraint extends to the rest of the movie; we only see snippets of the video the son recorded just before he went on his rampage, and small clips of the story on the news. The writers trust in their audience to fill in the blanks.

I was pleased to see "Beautiful Boy" landed a distributor at the festival, Anchor Bay Films. Here's hoping they give this very special film the attention it deserves, as both actors are fully worthy of awards attention. No one grieves more beautifully than Bello, who gives a raw, heartbreaking performance as the mother who keeps wondering what she did wrong. And Sheen continues his streak of excellence--in a perfect American accent, no less. I caught up with him the day after seeing the film, where he talked about his role and how he masters that flawless Yankee sound. Of course, I had to ask him about his hilarious work on "30 Rock" as the British Wesley Snipes ("If you saw a picture of him and a picture of me and were asked who should be named Wesley Snipes. You’d pick the pale Englishman every time! Every time!") While he said he would love to return, he has yet to be contacted about any future appearances. He did reveal one hilarious bit of trivia, however, that since that role, he is regularly asked to autograph Wesley Snipes movies and paraphernalia!

--Jenelle Riley

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