Directed by Renaldo Marcus Green, Good Joe Bell tells the true story of Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg), a loving husband and father from the American Heartland. The picture of traditional manhood, Joe’s conservative worldview is threatened when his son, Jadin (Reid Miller) tells him that he’s gay. After Jadin is bullied mercilessly at his high school, Joe sets out on a mission across America to speak to school groups, communities or anyone who will listen about the corrosive dangers of bullying. However, as he sets out on his journey, Joe must also confront his own inner demons in an effort to be fully transformed by his experience.
Good Joe Bell is a timely look at what means to be truly changed from within. By telling the story from Joe’s perspective, the film effectively delves into inner biases that create a dangerous culture of oppression, as opposed to merely citing examples. Known for action blockbusters and comedic roles, Wahlberg is not generally known for subtly within his work yet his performance as Joe feels both personal and authentic. As Bell, Wahlberg offers an honest portrait of a man searching the very depths of his soul for new understanding.
For this reason, the beauty of Good Joe Bell is that it feels so much larger than Joe himself. Structurally, the story may be a tale of one man’s attempt to confront his own prejudices out of love for his son, it also serves as an example of a Conservative culture in dire need of doing the same. Moving and sincere, Green’s story of a man who understands the need for change within his own life comes at a time when Joe’s voice needs to be heard.
After all, though his walk is his own, Joe’s journey to redemption could be anyone’s.
Good Joe Bell is currently streaming on the TIFF Bell Digital Theatre during the Toronto International Film Festival.