"Beautiful Boy" is the Film About Addiction We Always Needed

Based on memoirs Tweak and Beautiful Boy by Nic and David Sheff, Beautiful Boy follows one family’s experience with addiction: highs, lows, relapses and all. Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, the film is a heart wrenching, valiant effort.

Nic, played extraordinarily by Hollywood’s best new discovery Timothée Chalamet, is a bright, affluent, and passionate young man. Matched in passion is Nic’s father David, played by Steve Carell in one of his best dramatic performances to date. As the pair braves the depths of Nic’s descent into drugs, they are assisted by Nic’s mom, played eloquently by Amy Ryan, and step-mother, played by Maura Tierney. This star-studded and captivating cast is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

The film begins with David Sheff concerned, speaking to a drug specialist, about his son’s relationship with drugs, particularly crystal meth. He is asking the questions, “What is this doing to him [my son], and what can I do help him?”

These short pleas for understanding set the tone for the rest of the film, identifying the film’s central ideas within minutes. The rest of the film follows their struggle through Nic’s addiction. Unlike many films about addiction, this one is not melodramatic. It does not romanticize addiction and it is not falsey hopeful or dishonestly cynical. It fleshes out this issue, which is the leading cause of death for people under 50 in America, through the perspective of the addicted and their loved ones.

Often this film has been called “frustrating” as the audience continually hopes for a complete recovery or the worst case scenario, never receiving either. True to the patterns and hard work of recovery, the two hour film ends without the pretty bow we as audience members expect and hope for; it is hopeful and tragic, these two powers inseparable and understood clearly by those behind, and in front of, the camera.  

There are some bumps in pacing and probably one two many flashbacks and a few unconvincing lines of dialogue, but ultimately the film remains sturdy with its convincing performances and a shining story that needs to be heard.

You can’t save anybody, but you can be there for them. This is the message breaking through, and the enduring love between a father and a son is the conduit by which it is delivered—honestly, responsibly and with care.