This unsettling, well-acted documentary-like drama has thematic connections to the likes of Rabbit Hole and Elephant as the subject matter is eerily similar to the latter.
Beautiful Boy stars Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, and Kyle Gallner, and allows for much insight into parental, marital and domestic strife from an unexpected tragedy.
Life hasn't been a bowl of cherries for workaholic Bill (Sheen) and his proofreader spouse(Bello), separating after 18-year-old son Sam (Gallner) has left for college. All seems to be okay as Sam settles into his new environment and independence.
Devastation instantly touches them and many others as Sam went on a murderous campus rampage, ultimately taking his own life (ala the West Virginia and Columbine shootings - as the latter was documented by Michael Moore with compassion and political conviction).
Director and co-writer Shawn Ku keeps the focus on the middle-age couple going through an emotional gamut from anger, bewilderment, and guilt with their sudden loss.
Heavy pressure from the media to uncover such a hot news item leads them to spending some time at the home of Kate's brother (Alan Tudyk) and his wife (Moon Bloodgood) who are raising an 8-year-old.
Bill has been given some time off, and Kate helps out around the house as well as starting another project with an author. The mourning process is difficult and different for them as each becomes agitated wondering how they went wrong by Sam. Could it be much of a childhood without his busy father around or mom's overbearing, faultfinding ways with him?
Beautiful Boy has a pared-down, natural approach that Ku employs with a measured confidence as Bill and Kate will find some escape in a hotel room before moving forward in their personal and professional lives (especially the former).
Some of the close-ups and cramped quarters through hand-held lensing might be a little irksome, but it doesn't deter Bello (her best work since A History of Violence) and Sheen (displaying a rather authentic American accent) from acutely internalizing two damaged souls.
With Tudyk, Bloodgood, and, briefly but effectively, Gallner, offering beneficial backup, there's a palpable orbit around Bill and Kate that makes for a consistently thoughtful and heart-wrenching experience. Maybe one that is at its best when it's really rough for the parents of a seemingly beautiful young adult like Sam. Even if its clarity and poignancy isn't really reflected in the survivors of his dead classmates.