The title character is never on camera in “Rain Beau’s End,” the most interesting choice in this seasons-in-a-gay-relationship melodrama.
Imagine “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” the searing, seminal 2011 drama about a family overwhelmed by a son whose violent streak and self-control issues reach a crisis, without any sign of Kevin. Lacking the presence of the supposed cause in all the stress in this couple is a palpable absence that the viewer feels, and frankly one the two leading ladies sense as well.
There’s a lot of under-reacting to violent, on-the-spectrum tantrums, lashing out and seriously disturbing behavior mentioned over the film’s two decades or so of personal history.
“Beau,” a boy the gay couple Hannah (Janelle Snow) and Jules (Amanda Powell) adopt at age four, is an eagerly-awaited completion of their dream of “family.” But Hannah, a successful lawyer, is running for mayor in their suburban Chicago town, and Jules has a coffee shop — Sappho’s Cafe — to run.
A friend doesn’t have to be a prophet to wonder “how they’ll have time” to raise a child.”
There’s even a press scrum when the two women go to pick the kid up in the mid-90s, when gay women adopting a boy would be “news.” A right wing columnist lashes out.
And all that comes before they endure Beau’s first blasts of “acting out,” before the first injuries he causes before the violence he almost does to a pet and before his therapist (Andrea Salloum) has him tested and gives them a diagnosis.
Not ADD or anything most of us have ever heard of. “Jacob’s Syndrome.” He will require lifetime of attention, therapy, but “no medication” holistic “Namaste Jules” (her nickname) insists.
Tracy Wren’s film of Jennifer Cooney’s script takes us through the ups and downs brought to the relationship by this unseen and frankly undersold threat to their happiness. As Hannah and Jules, our “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.” leads find each other with fresh bruises, are visited by a school principal at his wit’s end and a cop detailing Beau’s — Jules wants to call him “Rain Beau” — latest violation of public order or school policy.
They describe a nightmare, differ in how they think they should deal with his issues, lightly bicker and move on.
The effect is a serious softening of the body blows this kid is giving them psychically and physically, and we feel it in the leads’ drained performances. Hannah and Jules are rationalizing, denying, avoiding and not really grappling with the fact that they can’t “fix” him or “turn him in for a better one.”
A reasonable person would be a frazzled, nervous wreck. They just go about their days, sip wine and gripe to their mostly-gay friends, who wonder when “you’ll get your life back.”
The kid’s a handful, and I just don’t get that here. It doesn’t help that all these conversations are staged in a deathly-quiet house. A lot of simple tricks would get across that tension and put the viewer on tenterhooks with them — noise, a room being tossed or a kid screaming in fury. Even if you don’t see him, that would seem more accurate and put the viewer right there on harrowing edge with the two moms.
It’s as if Beau is some sort of distraction that even Jules, the supposedly more involved one, isn’t commited to focusing on. The mayor can barely be bothered, “He needs love” falls on deaf ears.
“Do for you,” Hannah’s law partner (Sean Young) grouses. “When you do for others, the pain isn’t worth it.”
Needless to say, nobody involved with “Beau” would want us to extrapolate this into a representation of gay parenting.
Young and Ed Asner (Hannah’s not-quite-estranged homophobic dad) sparkle in small roles. And the film can leave you feeling that you’ve watched something more substantial you have thanks to contrived ending.
But it’s the one role that wasn’t cast that hamstrings “Rain Beau’s End,” a melodrama with an emotional finale that feels like a cheat at the end of a story where the “problem child” feels like an inconvenient afterthought.
MPA Rating: unrated
Cast: Janelle Snow, Amanda Powell, Andrea Salloum, Sean Young and Ed Asner
Credits: Directed by Tracy Wren, script by Jennifer Cooney. A LesFlicks release.
Running time: 1:43