Spoiler alert: “Joe Bell” is based on a true-life story. The story below contains details that reveal the ending of the film.
If you were in the right place at the right time – in this case, on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere – you might have heard Mark Wahlberg boisterously belt lyrics to Lady Gaga‘s queer anthem “Born This Way.”
Off-key and half-shouting “Don’t hide yourself in regret / just love yourself and you’re set,” he was, of course, acting, as the titular character of “Joe Bell” (in theaters Friday). “I must have listened to that song, and only that song, for probably two months,” Wahlberg says over a Zoom call from Los Angeles.
The film, based on a true story, follows Joe’s trek on foot across the country starting in spring 2013 – from La Grande, Oregon, en route to New York – to teach a message of tolerance and the harmful effects of bullying to anyone who will listen, from bar customers to auditoriums full of people, as a way to honor his 15-year-old gay son Jadin (Reid Miller).
The Gaga-infused scene, less than 15 minutes into the movie, also features onscreen son Jadin. Sadly it is one of the film’s few light moments: Viewers later learn that Jadin died by suicide after an onslaught of bullying revealed in flashbacks. The Jadin we meet on the highway is merely Joe’s vision.
Wahlberg, 50, says the bittersweet moment lets Joe imagine what life could have looked like had he been a better father and supported his son more fully…