People think it’s easier these days, a gay man tells the titular character Good Joe Bell, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 14. The men are in a gay bar, discussing how children like Joes’ late son are still, even in this supposedly enlightened era, intimidated and worse for their perceived or real difference. It’s easier these days to be gay, for some people, in some places. But even for a kid like Jadin Bell, a white cisgender boy who committed suicide at the age of 15 in 2013, realizing and expressing his sexual orientation can be an impossible melting pot.
The good work of Reinaldo Marcus GreenA soft and light film reminds us of this clear and bitter fact. Queer children are still relentlessly marginalized and harassed in places all over America, as the biases of an entire nation do not suddenly change with major court decisions or an increase in representation in the arts. Jadin Bell, despite the many social and political advances made before and during his short life, was still angry at school and online for being gay.
His father, Joe (Mark Wahlberg), realized that to some extent while Jadin was alive. But not enough to really help her son. Suddenly, then, Jadin was gone, and Joe must have reeled in loss, trying to apologize to Jadin in a symbolic way, for symbolism was the only option he had left. He decided, rather savagely, to cross America, from La Grande, Oregon to New York, where Jadin hoped to live once he escaped the oppressive confines of his hometown. Along the way, Bell gave elevated and interrupted lectures on the dangers of bullying, urging students and parents to be kind, not to judge, to love first and unconditionally. It was a dignified message, albeit rather inaccurate. Still, it was something. Too little, far too late, but something. Six months after the start of his journey, Joe was hit by a truck and killed, his mission being incomplete.
However, it was probably always going to be incomplete, which is the urgent and surprisingly sober conclusion of Good Joe Bell. The film, written by brokeback mountain scribes Larry mcmurtry and Diana Ossana, does not circulate in many platitudes. There is no easy forgiveness for Joe, nor for any parent who, as Joe admits to having done, in a scene rich in themes that somehow doesn’t exaggerate the centers. , their blockages and their discomfort, in the journey of their child. The film is in some ways a warning, a PSA staged with enough artistry to make up for the didacticism. Green who used an equally elegant touch for his 2018 Police Shooting Triptych Monsters and menlets the film revolve around Joe and his grief, without drawing attention to redemption. It’s a disarmingly harsh film that way, even when it’s sentimental.
Having Joe played by Wahlberg gives the film a curious extra dimension. Wahlberg, during his long career as a musician and actor, has said non-charitable or categorical things about homosexuals. He produced a show, Entourage, who regularly poked fun at his one recurring gay character. He often seemed like exactly the kind of asshole that threatened me in my own upbringing in Boston when I came out. (To say nothing of a particular act of racist violence that Wahlberg committed in his youth.)
Becoming a movie star, however, takes a lot, unfairly or not. Wahlberg has achieved great success without having much loathing for his words and actions. The criticism has always been there, but Wahlberg has never increased, supported by a largely supportive industry. So I guess in the most cynical way, Wahlberg never needed to atone for anything. He made his millions, won an Oscar nomination. What material reason did he have to reckon with himself? His appearance in this film, then a seemingly pure act of volition, perhaps meant to reflect an evolving personal philosophy, elicits grudging respect. Again, that may not be enough, but it is something.
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