Directed by Shawn Ku
This is a simple story, told in a simple way. With it's two standout performances (Sheen and Gallner), 'Beautiful Boy' doesn't pack the emotional punch you would hope for, introducing conflict in only the most obvious ways.
Filmed in a way very similar to your average Paul Greengrass movie, the up-close handheld cam style doesn't seem to give it the raw and revealing feel that the filmmakers were undoubtedly attempting to convey. I can see what they were going for, but it doesn't work well this particular movie. Instead, it feels like a poorly-framed low budget movie fit for the Hallmark channel.
The under-utilization of Kyle Gallner is a shame for the whole movie's sake, as his small, yet central performance is definitely a highlight. An obviously deeply troubled character, Gallner makes the most of what little material he is given, providing the deepest -- and simultaneously least explored -- character in the movie. They should have taken more time away from his co-star Maria Bello, who successfully manages to butcher every dramatic scene she's involved in, while the vastly superior Michael Sheen nobly attempts to salvage them -- but to no avail. Her pathetic displays of staged emotion leave you feeling empty and flat, and though it's partially the fault of the weak script, her performance cannot be excused. She was given much more to work with than she contributed.
We don't sympathize with the characters and the situation they are going through, for it feels that they only permit themselves to grieve when it's most convenient to push the story along. There are times in the movie where you forget that their son has just committed mass-murder/suicide, until (most often) Bello bursts out crying, at which point you remember that they were supposed to be heart-broken this whole time. I know grief can affect people in strange ways, but there is an intermediate level, which is conveniently placed between full-on bawling and acting like a regular person who hasn't just had tragedy befall you. Thanks to the script, we are rarely shown that common level of emotion.
Now, about that script. Since they never fully explore the son, it's impossible for us to judge whether or not it was essentially the fault of his parents, or if his violent act was brought on by an extreme case of manic depression. It is because of this that we are forced to view it from an infinitely less-informed perspective than the parents, who are also clueless as to their son's motives. I can't help but to feel that this is a critical flaw in the narrative. Naturally, the parents will be shaken by the disturbingly tragic death of their son. It is expected that they will blame themselves for what was done -- but is that the whole point of the movie? What is the message? Tragedy swiftly followed by grief is a natural response, but it does not make for a good movie -- especially when it provides no real insight or fresh perspective. An explanation isn't always required, but in this case we are left asking far more unnecessary questions than we should be. It's as if the writer had an idea and wrote a few dramatic scenes around it to fill it out, forgetting to include what I have come to refer to as "the point".
That being said, I wouldn't say 'Beautiful Boy' is a complete waste of time (as it's running time is just over 90 minutes) but there are many far better options if you are in the mood for a serious, tragedy-based drama; In The Bedroom would be a good choice.