Director-Felix Van Groeningen
Starring-Steve Carrell, Timothee Chalamet
Scott’s Review #835
Reviewed November 23, 2018
Beautiful Boy (2018) tells a humanistic and important story about the ravages of drug addiction and how the issue effects not only the addict, but the entire family unit. Nestled within the powerful writing is a lovely father/son relationship and the trials and tribulations the duo faces over the years. The film feels pure and honest with rich story-telling and a plethora of good acting performances.
Beginning in present times, David Sheff (Steve Carell) realizes that his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) has been missing for two days. When Nic finally shows up at the Sheff household he is strung out and sick. David suspects Nic has been abusing drugs and all parties agree that Nic needs professional help and a stint in a rehab facility. However, nobody realizes the depths of Nic’s addiction.
When Nic checks out early and goes on a bender the film begins to segue back and forth between periods of Nic’s recovery and his many relapses, also presenting scenes of David and Nic’s relationship during childhood years. The best parts are the conversations and moments between father and son and the enduring love they share. In the mix are David’s second wife Karen (Maura Tierney) and Nic’s mother Vicki (Amy Ryan).
The screenplay is based on memoirs written by David and Nic Sheff. The chronicles of their journey include triumph and heartbreak over many years as recovery and relapse become frequent parts of their lives threatening to tear them apart or result in Nic’s ultimate death. The road to recovery is not an easy path.
The primary characters David and Nic are wonderfully portrayed by Carell and Chalamet. The fact that the actors do not resemble each other is quickly forgotten as their dynamic is emotional and palpable, sharing easy chemistry. Carell is a strong actor, capable of infusing his character with strength and calm while slowly falling apart at the seams. He loves his son and wants him to recover, but finally accepts that he needs to let his son go. This moving realization is Carell’s best scene.
Chalamet, boyish and innocent looking is perfectly cast. With kind blue eyes and a mop of raven hair the actor could easily pass for twelve-years-old, this only enhances the tragedy of youth ravaged by drug abuse. These qualities are mirrored by those of his girlfriend Lauren (Kaitlyn Dever). She also possesses a fresh-faced, clean look, which strengthens the message.
Mention must be made of Ryan’s and Tierney’s performances in what could easily be throwaway “wife roles”. For a while I thought Tierney was in a marginal role until she finally has a wonderful scene where her frustration reaches a boiling point. Fuming with rage she attempts a car chase with Nic only to finally crumble into tears, realizing how the mess has changed her as a person. Ryan also sinks her teeth into a teary role almost blaming herself for Nic’s problems.
The film wisely presents statistics to further hit home, mainly the low percentage recovery rate of most crystal meth users. At single digit success rates this note is frightening, the user requiring more and more substance just to feel anything close to the first high they experienced.
A pivotal scene occurs at the end of the film as we see David and Karen attend a support group. As they tearfully listen to a woman’s story of the recent death of her addict sister we are left to wonder if Nic has also died. Kudos to a powerful cameo performance by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton.
The sunny California setting is a benefit to the film and starkly contrasts the darkness of New York City where Nic attends school. With multiple exterior shots of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the metropolitan scope is vast and cruel for drug users. Easily accessible to anyone with the motivation to obtain drugs, the streets of San Francisco are portrayed as hard and drug infused, especially when David drives around desperately looking for Nic.
Featuring a story told before but rarely from the family perspective, Beautiful Boy (2018) does what it sets out to do and does it splendidly. Careful not to soften the challenges and sufferings of the addict, the devastation they bring to their loved ones are also showcased. The sound and emotional father/son relationship may be the best part of the film.