Review: 'Joe Bell' a Gay Drama for Straight Eyes

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 23, 2021

Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg in 'Joe Bell'
Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg in 'Joe Bell'  (Source:Quantrell D. Colbert Courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

Mark Wahlberg may be the headliner in the poorly conceived melodrama "Joe Bell," but it's 21-year-old Reid Miller who shines as the real star. Based on a true story (which has been disappointedly adapted for the screen by Larry McMurty & Diana Ossana, of "Brokeback Mountain" fame), this is a gay drama is made specifically for straight eyes.

This is the story of Joe Bell, who failed to accept his gay teenage son, Jadin. He cared much more about how Jadin's sexuality would affect the family's standing in the community than about the struggle his son was dealing with on his own. When Jadin was severely bullied at school and the principal claimed she could do nothing to help the situation, his father sat by on the sidelines. It wasn't until a distraught Jadin took his own life that his father finally started to react.

He suddenly, and selfishly, claimed the moral high ground, refusing to accept that either Jadin's mother (Connie Britton) or brother could possibly be grieving as much as him. As it had always been Jadin's dream to move to New York, Joe decides to walk all the way there from their home in La Grande, Oregon, and talk to anyone and everyone en route about the tragic consequences of bullying.

Even though Jadin's character is written as a cliched queer youth whose life centers around Lady Gaga (who else!), Miller's performance is the film's redeeming feature. On the other hand, it is difficult to watch Wahlberg (who also serves as producer) in this role, considering his own reputation for bullying. (He is also known for having turned down Ang Lee's offer of a part in "Brokeback Mountain" because he claimed it was 'too creepy.")

If Wahlberg considered this film a means toward his own redemption, then sadly this heavy-handed and muddled drama did not achieve its aim.

"Joe Bell" is in theaters July 23, 2021.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.