Who’s In It: Maria Bello, Michael Sheen, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, Kyle Gallner
The Basics: When their moody, clearly troubled son opens fire on a classroom at his university campus, committing mass murder before taking his own life, a shattered mother and father have to piece together what they knew of their “beautiful boy” and reconcile it with what the rest of the world sees. And like any parent of a kid who commits a heinous, unbalanced act, they spend the rest of the movie blaming themselves and each other. Just don’t blame yourself if you watch it and wind up a little bored.
What’s The Deal: This movie works best when it allows for ambiguity and doesn’t search for answers to whatever mental illness provokes mass murder. It also knows that quieter is usually better when it comes to letting characters work out tough situations with no happy-ending solutions. But when it aims for gut-wrenching catharsis and tears it slips on the banana peels of banal behavior and emotional responses you’ve seen a million times before. It takes a tough-minded film to stand back and let its characters behave the way real-life people really would, even when that behavior turns ugly and unsympathetic. But that’s not this film.
Doing Their Best: Maria Bello and Michael Sheen. Actors love roles where they get to play flesh-and-blood people with genuine problems that don’t involve battling aliens, roles where they can play as many emotional notes as they have in their own personal box of faces. So it’s no diss to them to say that they go for it here, restrained one minute, melting down the next. And when they go overboard, you can just blame director Shawn Ku for not rescuing them. But most of the time they’re both a pleasure to watch.
Unintentional Shouts-Out To The Following Movies Where Emotions Are Expressed Via The Passive-Aggressive Sink-Disposaling Of Food And Smashing of Plates: Careful viewers of domestic tragi-dramas will recall the tense moment when Mary Tyler Moore threw out Timothy Hutton’s dutifully prepared breakfast of uneaten french toast in Ordinary People, as well as the shocking moments of plate breakage from not only that film but also In the Bedroom. Both of those signifiers are on display here, as well as the inevitable mom-n-dad screaming match where it’s revealed that neither spouse ever understood the other one and how their kid’s ruin should rightly be considered the sole responsibility of one or the other. They’re this kind of movie’s version of an action film car chase where someone looks in the rear-view mirror and says, “We’ve got company.”
Regarding Hugs: A general rule for me—maybe not you—is that the more of them there are on screen, the less I’m going to be into your movie. They must be used sparingly and they must be earned. Or awkward. Awkward is the best kind, really. I lost count of all the hugs here.