Based on a true story, Joe Bell premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year. It’s finally opening in theaters on July 23, 2021. Mark Wahlberg plays the title role; a bereaved father who embarks on a trip across America to speak about the tragic cost of bullying.

Openly gay student tragedy

Joe Bell - Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller and Connie Britton
Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg), Jadin Bell (Reid Miller) and Lola Bell (Connie Britton) ©2021 Roadside Attractions, photo by Quantrell D Colbert

Bell’s son Jadin, portrayed by Reid Miller, was the only openly gay student at his school. When he was 15-years-old he committed suicide following daily bullying by his classmates.

Joe Bell - Reid Miller
Jadin Bell (Reid Miller) ©2021 Roadside Attractions, photo by Quantrell D Colbert

The movie was written by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, who together won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.

In Joe Bell, Jadin’s physical presence is felt throughout the movie. He is devised as a constant companion to his father Joe, as he makes his way across the country; finally having the father-son conversation missed out in real life.

Mark Wahlberg “fix things while you can”

Joe Bell - Mark Wahlberg
Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) ©2021 Roadside Attractions, photo by Quantrell D Colbert

‘I was just so moved by Diana and Larry’s writing,’ says Mark Wahlberg. ‘It made me think about my own sons a lot. It’s through all these conversations with Jadin that Joe is finally able to confront how he was with his sons; and how he would like to have been. He sees that he should have wrapped his arms around Jadin and been there to protect him whatever way he could.’

Mark notably adds, ‘Part of what I think he wanted to tell the world is that you don’t always get to do it over. So it’s important to fix things while you can. That’s what the script captures.’

Joe Bell - Mark Wahlberg and Gary Sinise
Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) and Sheriff Westin (Gary Sinise) ©2021 Roadside Attractions, photo by Quantrell D Colbert

Joe Bell Director Reinaldo Marcus Green

The movie’s director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) concurs. ‘I lost my father about eight years ago now. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I could have had a conversation with him. There’s something really beautiful about Joe and Jadin being together so closely in Joe’s head.’

Give somebody a hug

Joe Bell - Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton
Joe Bell – Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) hugs Lola Bell (Connie Britton) ©2021 Roadside Attractions, photo by Quantrell D Colbert

As Joe began talking to people across the nation he learned to stop preaching and to listen, as Wahlberg explains. ‘What Joe finally realized is that this was not just his problem. This is a problem that belongs to all of us, and it will take all of us to make it better. Sometimes the boldest thing you can do is just to put your hand on somebody’s shoulder, give somebody a hug and let another person know that somebody cares.’

He adds, ‘In this time when there is so much division, a story like this shows people can still come together when they try to listen.’

Joe Bell Trailer

Theatrical Release

  • US & Canada: July 23, 2021
Joe Bell - Poster: Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg
Joe Bell – Poster: Jadin Bell (Reid Miller) and Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) ©2021 Roadside Attractions, photo by Quantrell D Colbert

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.