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Quendrith Johnson


Quendrith Johnson is filmfestivals.com Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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JOE BELL rings true, somber for an America in transition

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

While Mark Wahlberg as JOE BELL, the grieving father who was initially ambivalent about his gay son Jadin, might seem a curious casting choice to some on the topic of bullying, it makes sense from the standpoint of where “Marky Mark” started out in life. Wahlberg, who turned 50 this year, is from Winter Hill gang-boss Whitey Bulger's birthplace Dorchester, Mass. The place was a notorious 1970's hotbed of racial and homophobic bigotry. That said, this Roadside Attractions release that opens July 23, is nothing short of an exercise in searching one’s own personal inventory for bits and pieces of experience with intolerance that make up everyone’s coming-of-age story. Almost no one escapes puberty without facing one end of the issue or the other, bully or bullied.

Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert - Courtesy Roadside Attractions

Since the plot of this film is based on a true incident, it helps to know a little bit about Joe Bell and his older son Jadin Robert Joseph Bell, born June 4, 1997, in La Grande, Oregon. Father of two sons, Joe worked in a Boise Cascade lumber facility. He had his share of injuries and setbacks, but was a solid citizen in his macho-minded small town. Jadin fought through these stereotypes to become his high school's first male cheerleader. Father Bell began to see that no matter how much lip-service the locals gave in support, the brutal abuse "ripped him apart," Joe would later say of Jadin's forced spiral to depair. Which culminated when usually sunny Jadin died at 15, days after being pulled off life support on the heels of hanging himself on a schoolyard.

This is not a spoiler because JOE BELL is about his father coming to terms with this tragic death. A loss that inspires a countrywide mission to spread the word not just on ‘tolerance’ but on how to accept differences on a cellular level.

In fact this boy’s death, though one of many thousands of young people persecuted for sexual difference, hit the nation with “granular specificity” as one reporter in 2013 described the feeling in the wake of brave male cheerleader Jadin’s complicated sexual-bullying related suicide that February.

Take a look at Joe & Jadin Bell’s world through their eyes

 

 

Reid Miller surprises here at 21 and more than believable as a 15-year-old, with a standout performance, as does steely and soft Connie Britton. Gary Sinise has a tender part that played out in the true story, and the filmmaker is Reinaldo Marcus Green (MONSTERS AND MEN; upcoming KING RICHARD), along with the Academy Award-winning writing team behind BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry. McMurty died in March of 2021, but his legendary career spans novels “The Last Picture Show” to “Terms of Endearment” - both of which were adapted into films - along with a trove of memorable movie credits.

Photo credit: Quantrell D. Colbert - Courtesy Roadside Attractions

Looking back, during the era when Mark Wahlberg grew up in Whitey Bulger’s stomping ground of Dorchester, desegregation, bussing, and iron-clad gender roles were the norm. It was a place where most boys aspired to Golden Gloves boxing fame under intense peer pressure to conform to American male standards. Meaning that Wahlberg’s foray to become a triple threat performer, taking singing and dancing lessons, skirted the edges of accepted masculinity with pushback.

Along the way to Hollywood stardom as an actor, Marky Mark had a very real learning curve, legal run-ins, coming to terms with his own checkered past on the wrong side of the arguments against violence and intolerance. Thus Wahlberg's pitch and tone, the frightening portrayal of uncensored angry outbursts in the movie, truly hit home.

So who better to play a key role of difference-maker in JOE BELL than one who has lived and learned and seen the issue from both sides?

See JOE BELL, and remind yourself why these themes keep coming up… because kids like Jadin Bell keep finding themselves alone without any recourse for the abuse that steals their light, and sometimes their life.
Roadside Attractions release date is July 23, visit the movie here.

#JoeBellMovie

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

LA Correspondent for filmfestivals.com


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