"Depressing, Politically Correct Anti-Bullying Story"
What You Need To Know:
JOE BELL has a great performance by Mark Wahlberg, who transforms his usual onscreen tough guy image with a sensitive performance. However, his performance is undercut by the movie’s two major dispiriting, depressing plot twists. JOE BELL supports and promotes homosexual behavior among teenagers. Also, it has an excessive amount of strong foul language, including many gratuitous “f” words, underage alcohol use, brief marijuana use, and overtly anti-Christian content in two scenes. JOE BELL is a depressing, unacceptable drama. People can and should oppose bullying of anyone and everyone without supporting and promoting the sinful lifestyles of the victims, whatever the reason behind the bullying may be.
JOE BELL is a drama recounting the true story of a blue-collar rural Oregon man who embarks on a walk to New York City to bring attention to the bullying his homosexual teen son endured before killing himself. Laced with an excessive amount of foul language, JOE BELL stars Mark Wahlberg in a deeply moving performance, but it fails to entertain or be compelling on a broader level because of some anti-climactic, depressing plot twists, and strongly supports acceptance and promotion of homosexuality among teenagers in addition to its anti-bullying message.
The movie opens with Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) walking down the side of a freeway with his son, Jaden (Reid Miller), as they are on their way walking cross-country to New York City to protest anti-homosexual bullying and preach tolerance. Joe is a pathetic sight, pushing a three-wheeled cart piled high with clothing and basic items as 18-wheelers whoosh past.
When he actually gives a talk, it’s rushed and doesn’t say anything other than bullying is wrong, don’t do it and that parents need to accept their children no matter what. That’s fine, but it is literally his entire speech, and it’s hard to imagine that big groups of people in small-town America turned out in droves to hear it. Yet, Joe unsurprisingly has the media on his side and has been the subject of glowing coverage repeatedly.
The movie starts to cut between Joe’s present-day travels and flashbacks to his home life as Jaden comes out to him, and of the terrible bullying Jaden endured. In the present, we see Joe and Jaden deal with harsh elements in the weather and watch as the father and son bond in their travels.
Then, there’s a twist that’s shocking. SPOILER FOLLOWS: Joe lets it slip about halfway that Jaden is dead, turning whatever sense of hope, lightness or happiness the movie has upside down. The rest of the movie keeps showing Joe trudging along, meeting his wife and other son at a small town along the way as they collapse into arguing, before he has a nice encounter with a sympathetic sheriff, played by Gary Sinise.
SPOILER FOLLOWS: Just when viewers get a sense of some hope that Joe’s walk will have some payoff, the movie abruptly ends with a written message telling viewers that the real-life Joe was killed by a sleeping driver while on his 2013 walk. Thus, the movie never reaches a genuine resolution, much less a positive one, and leaves viewers with a dispiriting ending that goes nowhere and will inspire apathy from viewers when it aspired to activism.
JOE BELL has a great central performance by Wahlberg, who transforms his usual onscreen tough guy image with his sensitive, raw performance in the title role. Only Sinise really registers otherwise in a standout way in the movie. Wahlberg and Sinise’s performances are undercut by the movie’s two major dispiriting, depressing plot twists. The script, written by the duo who won an Oscar for the silly, melodramatic homosexual romance BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, doesn’t really go anywhere. It also takes shots at Christians in one key scene where Bell angrily wonders why God didn’t protect his son. Then, when another scene starts showing prayer in a positive way from a friend’s point of view, Bell still sits silently throughout that scene, refusing to pray. The anti-Christian implications of these two scenes undercut the movie’s anti-bullying message.
All told, JOE BELL is a downer of a movie that portrays a journey that ultimately was going nowhere in the first place. It’s aimed at mature viewers, but its mediocrity, frequent foul language and anti-Christian invective make JOE BELL an unacceptable, depressing movie.