DVD Release Date: October 11, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: June 3, 2011 (limited); June 17, 2011 (wider)
Rating: R (for some language and a scene of sexuality)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 100 min.
Director: Shawn Ku
Actors: Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Kyle Gallner, Bruce French, Austin Nichols

With the multiplex overrun with the would-be blockbusters, sequels and big-budget summer movies, times are tough for art-movie lovers. Although the season’s tent-pole movies get the lion’s share of media attention—usually in relation to their box-office grosses—the summer is prime time for more intimate, limited-release titles.

Beautiful Boy, from co-writer and director Shawn Ku, is about the furthest thing from a summer blockbuster that could be imagined. It’s the “feel bad” movie of the summer—if not the year.

Some will see this movie as a way to register their complaints about the vapid Hollywood product that dominates screens while kids are out of school. But don’t mistake “downbeat” for “worthwhile.” Although Ku has tackled a serious subject—how two parents cope after their son commits mass murder and then suicide—the story he tells is one of suppressed feelings and emotional inertia, with a payoff that, while nice, feels like little reward for sitting through Beautiful Boy.

Bill (Michael Sheen, Midnight in Paris) and Kate (Maria Bello, Grown Ups) live in a large suburban home. The sprinklers automatically turn on at the same time each day. The newspaper is tossed onto the front yard at the same time, without fail. But these serene shots of the exterior of the family’s home don’t match what we see inside. Bill and Kate’s marriage shows signs of stress, and they have no one else in the home to distract them from their troubled relationship. A son, Sammy (Kyle Gallner, A Nightmare on Elm Street), is off at college, but he, too, is isolated. An early scene shows Sammy reading a story to a group of bored students ignoring his every word. When he calls home, his rapport with his parents is strained. Kate, eager to pin down plans with Sammy for a family vacation, doesn’t delve too deeply after picking up on Sammy’s reluctance to discuss his life away from home. Bill asks Sammy a few perfunctory questions but is more interested in getting some shut-eye.

They get a rude awakening when Sammy shoots up his classmates and takes his own life—a rampage that director Ku says was inspired by the Virginia Tech shootings several years ago. In the film’s press notes, Ku says he was interested in exploring the lives of the student’s parents, “two people we rarely empathize with in such a circumstance” and “who more often than not get the brunt of all the blame for the tragedy.”