GOOD JOE BELL: Great Story, Strange Narrative

I’ll set the stage here by stating that I was incredibly excited for this film due to the fact that director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s first feature film in MONSTERS AND MEN (2018) was terrific. That film immediately put this director on my radar and had me seeking out his next film as soon as possible. Those expectations may have been a bit much going into this film, but I still believe he is a terrific filmmaker who will go on to make many great films. GOOD JOE BELL (2020) is his latest directorial effort and it just recently played at the Toronto International Film Festival. Although lacking in a few areas, here’s why I believe GOOD JOE BELL‘s message is authentic enough to warrant a viewing. 

For those of you who are unaware of the true story itself, I’ll refrain from diving into the intricate details here, because watching this film was my first experience with this story. GOOD JOE BELL follows Joe (Mark Wahlberg) as he walks across America in order to spread awareness on bullying in general, but for bullying due to how his son identifies and how it has affected his life. The film begins in a way that makes you think it’s going to be a movie that it’s absolutely not, so when a certain plot revelation occurs, I was both shocked and stumped at the narrative choice on how they chose to reveal it. Some viewers may catch onto this before the reveal, but I had no idea what this film was about before watching it, so I was in the dark until then.

In terms of writing, other than the left-field reveal, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (who also penned great films like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005) and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)) the structure was impeccable. Jumping back and forth between two time periods really added a layer to this story. Sure, some of the material itself could’ve been told in a slightly better order in my opinion, but after that one specific hurdle, I was okay with the rest of the film. My biggest problem with this movie is how rushed the conclusion feels.

To reiterate, I have no knowledge of this true story and therefore looked at this film as its own thing. I’m not aware of certain elements were left out, but I can guarantee that there was more to explore about the final scene. I feel the emotional core of this film deflated itself in the way the final moments were showcased. GOOD JOE BELL is a film that takes itself very seriously in terms of developing the character of Joe, so I feel that his character didn’t quite get the screentime he deserved in the final scene. Yes, many things are implied, but everything else about the movie is so blatantly obvious that this felt like one more strange narrative choice.

Overall, GOOD JOE BELL is bolstered by a fantastic performance by Mark Wahlberg, but he is outshined on multiple occasions by Maxwell Jenkins, who plays his son. Although he was the lead in the Netflix series LOST IN SPACE and appeared in the film POPSTAR: NEVER STOP STOPPING (2016), I had never really paid attention to his talent until now. This is a young actor that everyone should be keeping an eye on. These two played off each other so well that it made the movie worth watching for that alone. GOOD JOE BELL suffers greatly from some strange narrative choices, but I otherwise thought the story itself was great, along with the performances, so I would say to give it a watch. The subject matter may be a little too much for some viewers who may have it hit a little too close to them though. Just a fair warning.

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