There are many reasons a film might be hard to watch: unbelievable performances, sloppy writing, unskilled direction. Some movies offend with tasteless portrayals of strong sexual content or graphic violence.
Beautiful Boy doesn’t have any of these problems. The film is beautifully acted and well made. Its one sex scene is very thoughtfully done. Beautiful Boy is hard to watch because of the sheer intensity of the subject matter it covers.
Bill and Kate are emotionally distant and muted until they receive the worst news two parents could possibly get. Not only has their only son been killed in a campus shooting, but it turns out he was the shooter.
The couple must deal with their own loss while trying to weather the varied opinions of family, neighbors, and media. This also gives them more time than they wanted to examine how they feel about one another.
Beautiful Boy is a sensitive, honest examination of the lives of two people who have had their lives destroyed, struggling to come to terms with a new existence. Director Shawn Ku pulls the audience into a harsh realism rather than throwing maudlin emotion at them.
All of the acting is above reproach here. Michael Sheen couples an understated sadness with a raw anger, and Maria Bello exhibits a heartbreaking sense of desperation. Their interaction is fantastically intense, in silence as well as in screaming.
Beautiful Boy is hard to watch not because the artists fail but rather because they succeed. It brings you into this horrific situation and into the lives and hearts of the protagonists. It makes you feel the emotions no one should feel. It is an impressive feat, but it is hard to watch.
The DVD offers a couple basic special features. The audio commentary by the director, the cinematographer, and the editor is the kind of classic commentary track that focuses on the technical aspects of making the film. The two or three deleted scenes are not missed from the narrative but are worth watching for some superb acting.