Joe Bell tells the touching true story of a man who treks across America to honor his late son.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film dives straight into a character build of Joe (Mark Wahlberg) and his son Jadin (Reid Miller). It only takes a few minutes to unveil the prickly relationship the two share and how they coexisted. The picture can be painted easily: Rural, white, male, baby boomer father struggles to accept his Gen Z, high school-aged, cheerleading, gay son.
First, it needs to be known that this film addresses bullying, specifically in the gay community, and eventually ends in suicide. So if this sounds like an extraneous amount of trauma then this film isn’t the one for you. Next, is the casting.
Reid Miller does an amazing job as Jadin in this film. The pain, suffering, and struggle, feel believable and well-expressed. Mark Wahlberg on the other hand, should definitely stick to action films. While he didn’t do a horrible job, the character would’ve been given more life if an emotionally powerful actor had this role. There were no fistfights and things didn’t go “boom” so why was he cast for this? There were plenty of opportunities for a breakout performance from Wahlberg but this film serves as proof that he’s pretty one-dimensional.
Jadin’s dream is to one day move to New York City. While a common destination for many dreamers, his was to be somewhere more accepting. With his mother (Connie Britton) being his only pillar of refuge (and sometimes she was unavailable), the allure of a more tolerant place made him happier just thinking about it. With home life on the rocks and school life equating to unending misery, merely existing became a task too big to take on. It was heartbreaking to see the beginning stages of his undoing when a school official suggested that Jadin simply switch schools as opposed to holding his bullies accountable.
Joe Bell gets an 8 out of 10. While the story is powerful by its own merits, Wahlberg doesn’t bring anything besides a star name to the fold. The runtime is 93 minutes and is rated R. The film will be released in theaters July 23.