After shooting Spenser Confidential for Netflix, Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg took a brief detour away from the action genre to make Good Joe Bell, a film inspired by the true story of a man who walked across the country to crusade against bullying. The movie played on the film festival circuit and received middling reviews (including from us at /Film), but Solstice Studios has since re-edited it, given it the new title of simply Joe Bell, and will be releasing it in theaters in February 2021, in time to compete in this very strange awards season.
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Towards the end of Good Joe Bell, Mark Wahlberg’s titular character takes a load off his feet from his cross-country walk to condemn homophobic bullying. He sits down at a police station underneath pictures of Barack Obama and Joe Biden hanging on the wall. This bit of art direction reveals what should have been obvious from the film’s overall comportment: this is a period piece.
America at large has experienced a dramatic shift in public attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community even since the Obama era. (Heck, during Joe Bell’s walk in 2013, the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional!) While homophobia remains a present threat, particularly among young people in schools, to act like there’s not significant awareness of the issue is just at odds with reality. People largely know the bullying of gay youth is a problem. And, to be clear, even a single instance of it occurring is a stain on society. But the persistence of the threat exists not out of ignorance but out of malevolence and immaturity.
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