Mark Wahlberg isn’t up to the emotional legwork of the anti-bullying drama Joe Bell - The A.V. Club
Jul 21, 2021 1 min, 23 secs
In Joe Bell, Mark Wahlberg plays a father on a pilgrimage—a cross-country walking tour meant to take him from Oregon to New York City entirely on foot, with stops along the way to speak out against bullying to whoever will listen.

By Joe’s side on this long trek is his teenage son, Jadin (Reid Miller), who tags along to high school assemblies where his father clumsily (and quite briefly) speaks on the importance of accepting people for who they are.

Jadin is gay, and it’s in his honor that Joe is marching, to raise awareness about the kind of relentless abuse the boy endured at his small-town school.

Without “spoiling” this tragic true story, let’s just say that it’s a debatably tasteful choice made for dramatic and emotional expediency—a “twist” that the movie occasionally risks implausibility to protect.

There’s some nuance to this characterization that may be true to the real Joe Bell or just to plenty of parents like him; after all, not every father who fails their kid during the difficult coming-out period is a disapproving tyrant.

He looks most comfortable during early stretches of the movie, when it’s behaving like a buddy comedy between father and son; the actor’s comedic chops take a little of the cornball cringe out of a scene of the gruff Joe surprising Jadin by joining him on the chorus of “Born This Way.” But Wahlberg, delivering a performance that feels like community service, just isn’t up to driving a drama whose conflict is almost entirely internal; his default setting of sneering irritation is the wrong tool for the job


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