Parents' Guide to

Joe Bell

By Jeffrey Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Drama about tolerance means well but misses mark; bullying.

Movie R 2021 94 minutes
Joe Bell Poster Image

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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.

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