TIFF Film Review - Good Joe Bell (2020)
Good Joel Bell is based on a true story of a father and his son Jadin who was bullied in high school for being gay. Although Joe was accepting of his son coming out, he wasn’t as supportive as he could’ve been. He felt it was best for Jadin to keep quiet about his sexuality to avoid getting into trouble with the other kids at school. The torment Jadin experiences becomes too much and he tragically takes his own life. Through dealing with the loss of his son, Joe decides to walk across the country from Oregon to New York to inspire others to speak up against bullying. Along his journey he is confronted with the realization that he could’ve done a better job being supportive of his son.
I read another review on this movie that put it in such a negative light. The author criticized it for being “emotionally manipulative” and that [audiences] would “appreciate a good cry over a case in which exclusion and intolerance proved fatal”. They ended their piece stating “a movie like this would be a good start, if this were 1980”. While they did make a few good points, there was a lot about their critique that bothered me, especially their comment about the film not mentioning the “it gets better” movement and that it makes the assumption that “queer youth are all teetering on the cusp of suicide if pushed too far”.
What I think the writer missed was that this film was based on a real life story. Maybe Jadin never heard of the “it gets better” movement. He took his own life in 2013 and the stats for suicide are still no better today than they were seven years ago. According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and the stats for contemplating and attempting suicide are far greater amongst gay youth compared to heterosexual kids.
I know I’m a bit biased in my feelings towards this movie. When I was in high school a classmate who sat beside me in music class took his own life, one of the reasons he did was because he was bullied for being gay. Although we’ve made some progress towards acceptance since the Stonewall riots in 1969, there is still a lot of discrimination, hate, and bullying towards those who identify as LGBTQIA+. And there are still a lot of parents who don’t know how to navigate supporting their kids when they come out as gay as we see with the story of Joe and Jadin Bell.
I think Good Joe Bell is an important film that covers an issue that is still very prevalent in our society. And until we can ensure our children are free from discrimination and bullying, all of these stories are worthy of being told and heard worldwide.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. Help is available.
The 45th annual Toronto International Film Festival is online now until Sept 19.
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