“Beautiful Boy” is one of the definitive films about drug addiction and how the addiction affects the addict’s family. This is one of the film’s best qualities. It’s a unique perspective, as where typically it’s told through the addict’s perspective who usually gets the focus.
“Beautiful Boy” which was produced by Brad Pitt, tells the story of David Sheff, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine played by Steve Carell in a extraordinary performance and his drug addicted teenage son Nic played by last year’s Academy Award Nominee Timotheé Chalamet from “Call Me By Your Name”. Nic becomes addicted to a series of dangerous drugs, including crystal meth, heroin and every pill imaginable. “Beautiful Boy” is based off of two books each one written by father David and son Nic. The way David saw it, their lives at one point were relatively perfect, they have a loving household, and yet Nic’s seemingly conventional teen life leads to one experimentation after another, and now he’s disappearing for days on end, and he’s an emotional train wreck whenever he does decide to come home. David and Nic Sheff are real people and the film treats them that way as it should, since this is their story, they are the ones who wrote about their experiences living through and coping with drug addiction.
Drugs turn people into monsters and Nic’s not the charismatic drug addict Hollywood often emphasizes. There’s nothing cool about his addiction and Nic is simply a mess. Timothée Chalamet is ideal once again following his Oscar Nomination from last year, he is ideally cast once again. As sober he’s shown to be charming and attractive, with just a tad pretentious, just like “Call Me By Your Name’s” character Elio. It’s when Nic falls to pieces that Chalamet’s performance reveals his range as an actor and following up his “Call Me By Your Name” performance, this will no doubt propel him even further up the A-list. Chalamet brings an acting style reminiscent of James Dean showcasing an electric, forceful and screen grabbing, but stunningly vulnerable and real performance. Timotheé Chalamet is operating on another level, channeling levels of teenage angst, and demonstrating with frustrating clarity the ongoing battle between emotional neediness and defensive resentment. Chalamet is asked to hit big notes in his performance, but we never see him acting.
Steve Carell matches Chalamet’s performance moment for moment, as he struggles to help Nic overcome his addiction and bring back the child he once knew to the man who he no longer recognizes and wants him to be. Carell’s performance is dedicated, when the film shows Nic as a skeletal, nearly invisible, dead-eyed shadow on the verge of slipping away, David is at a loss to as to how to help his once “Beautiful Boy”.
The supporting cast is exceptional between Maura Tierney who is a standout as Nic’s supportive step mother, while the always incredible Amy Ryan is occasionally heartbreaking as his often absent mom who rises to the occasion when he starts to hit bottom, and Timothy Hutton who makes an appearance as a doctor with a history lesson on drug abuse. “Beautiful Boy” is given a sterling score filled with expansive tracks from David Bowie, Nirvana, Perry Como, Neil Young and of course John Lennon.
As great as David and Nic story is and as great as the performances are according to the real Nic Sheff’s own account, he actually sunk a lot deeper than director Van Groeningen seems willing to depict but maybe perhaps showing everything is unnecessary. It’s a mature film, mature filmmaking and acting, in that it shows there are really no cure-all’s for addiction and that even in the best scenarios damage cannot be undone. Constant headlines remind us daily, that it’s just getting worse and worse. Drug addiction is still happening in the world everyday. It’s a timely film and one that is disappointing is being saddled with an R-rating by the MPAA, where just like this past summer’s “Eighth Grade” it would be useful and beneficial for teens to see it.
“Beautiful Boy” falls victim to confusing editing from Nico Leunen, who fumbles with the flashback structure of the picture, confusing the passage of time and blurring a few supporting characters, including the subplot with Nic’s college girlfriend (Kaitlyn Dever). The editing disrupts the journey, but thankfully it doesn’t smother the impact of the stories. Despite the choppy editing and the repetitiveness of the script. The core message of powerlessness that a father has against a drug addicted child who refuses help remains in full effect.
Through the story we find the Sheffs, are rather wealthy, and can afford to put Nic into rehabilitation centers whenever he agrees to go to them. The one time they express concerns about money is that David learns one potential clinic costs $40,000 a week, he even shrugs it off and says it wasn’t the highest rated one on his list anyway. It’s a nice change of pace to see it in a different perspective, as it’s usually the less fortunate ones who have to get by paycheck to paycheck that get focused on.
Carell is powerful here and his performance is one of his very best efforts as a dramatic actor. Timothée Chalamet, who’s ideally terrified as Nic, gives another Oscar nominated performance. This kid will be an Oscar winner one day, you just wait and see. He is incredible. As a pair, the two build a believable family dynamic and father and son relationship.
Felix Van Groeningen’s film is interested in their mutating relationship, from wholesome childhood playtimes to angry disbelief at each other’s selfishness, to the loneliness of their respective plights. Nic feels as though his father could never understand him, and we watch as David desperately tries to learn more about his son’s experiences, to the point of experimenting with narcotics himself. “Beautiful Boy” is a small wonder of a motion picture. It’s heartbreaking, especially for a parent, but even the most empathetic viewer may find this well meaning picture tiring, dragging, depressive and at some points a lot to take in after a while. I’ll tell you what tho? It won’t be because of the stellar performances.
GRADE: ★★★★ (4) / ★★★★★ (5)