By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Drama about tolerance means well but misses mark; bullying.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Movie is strongly pro-LGBTQ+, advocates for kindness and tolerance, is against bullying. Depicts challenges of being your authentic self in an environment that's full of prejudice, as well as people's struggles to find acceptance for loved ones.
Positive Role Models
Jadin is depicted as brave and honest for coming out to his family, pursuing the life he wants in spite of potential ridicule. Unfortunately, his breaking point comes a little too quickly, and it's difficult to reconcile. Joe Bell might be considered admirable for trying to do something to raise awareness for his son's plight, but his overall efforts seem to come to little, if anything. Main characters are White.
Violence & Scariness
Bullying. Jocks gang up on a teen boy in the locker room, surrounding and taunting him. One teen punches another. Gun shown. Characters die. Adult throws an angry tantrum, scaring his family. Dialogue about teen suicide; shot of ambulance pulling away. Dialogue about fighting.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teens flirt, briefly kiss. Married couple kisses.
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Very strong, frequent language includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "a--hole," "t-ts," "ass," "goddamn," "son of a bitch," "ass," "hell," "damn," "piss," plus "for God's sakes." Anti-LGBTQ+ slurs like "fairy" and "f--got." One character says it's hard to stay strong in a place where there are "more churches than gays."
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Products & Purchases
Mentions of Facebook, Coke.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens smoke and drink (at a party). Adults smoke cigarettes. Dialogue about adult drinking too much, slurring their words.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Joe Bell is a fact-based drama about a man (Mark Wahlberg) who tries to walk across America to raise awareness about bullying and intolerance because of what his teen son, who's gay, went through. Violence includes bullying, teens in a locker room taunting and ganging up on another teen, punching, a gun, an angry tantrum, dialogue about suicide and fighting, and more. Teens flirt and kiss at a party, and teens smoke and drink. Adults also smoke cigarettes, and there's dialogue about characters who drink too much and slur their words. The language is very strong and includes swear words such as "f--k," "s--t," "motherf----r," and more, plus slurs like "f--got" and "fairy." The movie wears its message of kindness and acceptance on its sleeve; its delivery is more than a little clumsy, but it's well-meaning.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
In JOE BELL, Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) is seen walking along the highways of America, accompanied by his son, Jadin (Reid Miller). Joe is determined to spread a message of tolerance and kindness after the merciless treatment that Jadin, who is gay, endured at the hands of bullies. Flashbacks tell the beginnings of their story, from Jadin coming out to his joining the high school cheerleading squad to the tragic event that caused Joe to hit the road. But what will Joe really discover out there on the road?
Is It Any Good?
A movie with important things to say but not much clue how to say them, this virtuous drama might have worked if not for an unforgivable story device and an unsatisfying late-movie roadblock. Written, surprisingly, by the Brokeback Mountain team of Diana Ossana and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry, Joe Bell (formerly titled Good Joe Bell) feels like amateur hour. It's admittedly difficult, and certainly unfair, to describe the movie's two slap-in-the-face moments without disrespecting its noble efforts to tell a timely and crucial story, but it's a wonder how these two expert writers could have opted for such aggravating dramatic devices.
The movie definitely has worthy moments, such as watching Joe connect with his son or finding solace on the road with a group of drag performers and an understanding sheriff (Gary Sinise). But Joe's little speeches to high schools and other community groups are weirdly unmoving, and it's odd that the movie is as clumsy at communicating its message as the character is. Ultimately, it seems as if the filmmakers never decided what -- or whom -- their movie was actually supposed to be about. With a little more streamlining, a great movie could have been told from this story, but Joe Bell is not it.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Joe Bell. How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?
How is bullying depicted here? What are the results of bullying? How are bullies handled in the movie? Are there consequences for bullying behavior?
How are LGBTQ+ characters represented in Joe Bell? Do you consider them positive representations? Why, or why not?
This movie is based on a true story. How accurate do you think it is to the facts? Why might filmmakers adjust real-life events for a movie?
How are alcohol and smoking depicted? Are they glamorized, especially by teens? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?
- In theaters: July 23, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: August 20, 2021
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Connie Britton, Reid Miller
- Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
- Inclusion Information: Black directors, Latinx directors
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including offensive slurs, some disturbing material, and teen partying
- Last updated: July 22, 2022
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