It’s comforting that no all is different this year at TIFF. The lineup may be smaller and screenings can be online, but the programmers have retained at least one core feature of the festival experience: well-meaning but dripping social dramas based on true stories and featuring serious movie stars. The serious star this year is Mark Wahlberg, and he was cast as the main character of Good Joe Bell (Grade: C), about a father who takes a cross-country walking tour from small town Oregon to New York to speak out against bullying like the one his gay teenage son suffered in school. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and men), the movie has its heart in the right place, but its head is foggy and maybe concussed; he seems uncertain how to reshape her ripped story from the headlines into a satisfying drama – although that story may be sad and inspiring enough to put her in the running for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award anyway, given the lack of competition that will appeal to the crowd. this TIFF.
We meet Joe, the father of the good old scruffy boy from Wahlberg, on the road, pushing a cart of clothes and belongings down the freeway. Beside him is his son, Jadin (a very good Reid Miller), who accompanies high school assemblies where his father awkwardly (and quite briefly) extols the importance of accepting everyone as they are. Even when he’s not on stage, Joe has a hand in his wallet, ready to pass strangers at the local restaurant a card announcing his anti-hate message. The scenario, by brokeback mountain Oscar winners Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana intersperse this pilgrimage with flashbacks from months earlier when Jadin came to see his father. Those who know the full story of what the Bell family went through will either be very confused by the opening scenes of the film, or suspect what she bends over backwards to hide from the public. I won’t spoil the twist for those who don’t know, but I will gently suggest that right there being a twist of this story isn’t the tastiest choice.
For Wahlberg, the role almost feels like community service. I don’t want to stress it too much, but he’s a Hollywood heavyweight with a few clothing crimes in his past; seeing him play a character who travels the country to preach tolerance creates the temptation to read Good Joe Bell like a vague act of atonement through performance. Mostly, however, he doesn’t quite live up to what the role asks of him – the mix of conviction and guilt that drives Joe’s quest. It seems fair for the role only when the film flirts, from the start, with becoming a buddy comedy about a father trying to hook up with his son; Wahlberg’s comedic chops take a bit of the cornball squeak off a scene from the surly Joe surprising Jadin by joining him on the chorus of “Born This Way.”
Most problems with Good Joe Bell really stem from the way he was chosen to tell this tragic story. Although Joe is supposed to travel across America to educate and have empathetic discussions, the film oddly makes up few dating for him. (This could in part be the product of it hiding certain information from us for a while – again, a dumb approach.) More damaging, the script seems reluctant to address Joe’s own homophobia; his march for redemption is said to be inspired by a feeling he wasn’t supportive enough, but the flashbacks mostly highlight Wahlberg’s signature, the perpetual irritation at all, barely communicating how he feels about his gay son. This may be true for the real Joe or for many parents like him: Not all fathers who fail their child during the tough time of their life out are disapproving tyrants. But Good Joe Bell is a redemption story that barely tries to understand why its protagonist needs redemption. It’s a napkin sketch of a drama, introspection has never been shadowed.
As for the showcases of stars, I much prefer the first feature film by French playwright Florian Zeller, The father (Category B), which received a quiet reception at Sundance in the blessed days of January. Zeller, who has adapted his own play, tackles a subject that has been treated almost ad nauseam by the films: the difficult question of what to do when a loved one begins to lose their mental faculties. (We even had a horror movie making on the subject this year.) The father is that it explores this all-too-common nightmare from the entirely subjective point of view of the person with dementia – in this case, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), an elderly man who resists the help imposed on him by his worried adult daughter. (Olivia Colman). Anthony insists that he doesn’t need a caregiver, but it’s not just his memory that gets cloudy; basic details about his life – where he lives, who his daughter is married to, what his daughter even regards like – began to fade.
Unlike a couple other theatrical adaptations at TIFF this year, The father makes little effort to disguise its scenic origins; the fact that the action is confined entirely to one apartment is very essential to the conception of the story. (There is no shot on the scenes of the characters running to the store to “open” the material.) Zeller uses the inherently cinematic tools of editing and composition to enhance disorientation, but the film’s central strategy in this regard. ending is straight from the play: different actors keep entering, insisting that they are characters we’ve already met, while the information delivered in the dialogue is constantly contradicted. It’s a clever conceptual ploy that works to put us right into Anthony’s confused headspace, with the film creating a woefully unreliable sense of reality. And The father benefits immensely from the performance of Hopkins, who is among his most vulnerable, in part because it briefly evokes the actor’s ghost at his more erudite, intelligent and dominant, which strips him with the cruel indifference of dementia herself. even. Now thisThis is how you properly operate a movie star character.