#TIFF20: “GOOD JOE BELL”
By David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) is a bit of a tough Dad. He loves his family, but he has a hard time showing it. When his son Jadin (Reid Miller) ‘comes out’ as gay, Joe is begrudgingly supportive of his decision but not at all subtle with his embarrassment. After Jadin faces an onslaught of relentless bullying at school, Joe decides to walk and speak to groups across America to raise awareness about bullying and the effects it can have on others.
Good Joe Bell is a movie with its heart in the right place. It is based on an emotional true story and addresses an important topic that is sadly more relevant than ever. And Wahlberg, while not exactly the best candidate for the lead role, has rarely ever played a character like this before. He digs a bit deeper than usual, beyond being the brash jerk who yells and swears off the cuff, and has a few moments of true introspection. You can see and feel the genuine emotional range in his patchy bearded face. It is not his best work, but his soulful turn here continues his trend of trying to stretch beyond the Bostonian wise-ass archetype he can play in his sleep. Miller is very effective as Jadin, but he takes a back seat to Wahlberg’s redemption tale far too often (which may or may not have been the best narrative choice). And even though he does not have much to do, it was positively delightful to see Gary Sinise for a bit part in the Film’s Last Act.
But having good intentions does not save Good Joe Bell from being a complete mess. The Film employs a flashback structure that works in some instances, but does more harm than good by jumbling-up the timeline. The narrative gaps are practically endless, with crucial information removed from the Film entirely in favour of a zippy running time. Worse, its initial framing device to explain the plot is abandoned less than half way into the Film. Instead of addressing it properly, the pivot is treated as a barely consequential twist. Supporting Characters exist but have literally no bearing on what happens (and barely any explanation of who they are). Motivations are thin, and the Film has a bad habit of not properly showing or telling.
All of these elements and more make Good Joe Bell a crushing disappointment, especially when taking into consideration the wonderful talent behind the camera – which includes the Oscar-winning Screenwriters of Brokeback Mountain, Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana. There is a great film buried somewhere deep within Good Joe Bell, and it is a disservice to this important story for this to be the final product.
GOOD JOE BELL screens at TIFF ’20 as follows:
Mon, Sept 14
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Fri, Sep 18
Online at Bell Digital Cinema
Sat, Sep 19
TIFF Bell Lightbox