Movie Review: Beautiful Boy and the Truth of Addiction

Based on the novel of the same name by David Sheff, the new indie-style film Beautiful Boy, produced and distributed by Amazon Studios, tracks a father’s journey through his son’s addiction, and adds to the growing list of films that focus on the not-so-perfect dynamics of family relationships. The film follows father David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his son Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet) relatively equally as main characters; however, the true star of the film is the tumultuous relationship between them. As Nic falls deeper and deeper into what eventually becomes a debilitating crystal meth addiction, David struggles to reconcile the son he knew with who Nic has become, so at its core the film Beautiful Boy becomes a film about the unconditional love of a parent, and it truly is beautiful, albeit painfully tragic.  

Just last year Timothee Chalamet was lounging around in the summer sun and making us all wish we too were somewhere in Italy in the mid-eighties, but his crying in front of a fireplace in Call Me By Your Name proves to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his ability to be vulnerable on the silver screen. Throughout Beautiful Boy Timothee Chalamet shifts between an addict filled with hate for everything and everyone to a son just trying to do right by his parents with ease, and the resulting performance takes the film from an average piece to such an intimate portrayal of addiction that the viewer finds themself crying in spite of having no connection to the issue at hand. Of course, Steve Carell does his share of the heavy lifting as well. Proving once again that he can be more than just Michael Scott, Carell is unabashedly a powerhouse actor in the film, laying it all on the table in every scene and representing a father’s love and frustration in a way that leaves the viewer cheering for him in one moment and wanting nothing more than to give him a hug in the next. The true power of cinema lies in its ability to make a person feel and want to act even when the central matter has never affected them personally, and between the poignant performance of a parent in crisis by Steve Carell and the unguarded way Timothee Chalamet becomes his character, this film does just that. There’s really only one thing to say about the acting in this film: Academy Award nominations anyone?

 

However amazing the performances in the film are, the plotline can be confusing at times. At one point the viewer is watching Nic Sheff (Chalamet) get sick in the car and beg his father for help, and then five minutes later he’s a young boy flying to his mother’s for the weekend whose biggest concern is that he’ll miss his dad. The weaving plot lines are essential to telling the story in a way that illustrates how slippery the slope from innocence to corruption can be, but it occasionally leaves the timeline of the film disorganized at best. Regardless, there is no denying that the scenes themselves are insanely appealing.  Between the jealousy-invoking houses where scenes take place and the muted shots of the California scenery, the cinematography is reminiscent of Big Little Lies without the cinematic drama. The mood of Beautiful Boy is special because of its simplicity: there’s no fascination here, no extra-special circumstances. This is a story about an average boy who can’t escape his own condition and a parent who only wants to help but can’t seem to reach the son he once knew so well. The relevance here is difficult to miss. In every interview the actors have given, they have emphasized their desire to use this platform to bring addiction to the forefront in society and remind people of an issue that is prevalent in America and affects so much more than just the addicted. Beautiful Boy doesn’t attempt to blame someone else for Nic Sheff’s condition, but it does beg for understanding at the basic human level that addiction tears families and people apart, and so people should be talking about it.

Beautiful Boy isn’t the film of the year; however, with its hard-earned subtly and undeniable star power it definitely shouldn’t be ignored.

 

The plot is less eventful than films tend to be these days and the issues discussed are specific, but the intimate portrayal of addiction through the lens of family is heart-wrenching and relevant to society as a whole, if not to every individual. Beautiful Boy allows the viewer to choose what theme to focus on: the power of family love, the nature of addiction, the threat of personal responsibility, and the list goes on. Of course, if none of these things appeal to you, then you can always just go see Beautiful Boy for the wonder that is Timothee Chalamet’s hair.

 

Beautiful Boy had a limited released on October 12th and is in theaters now!

 

Sources:

[cover photo]: https://www.slashfilm.com/beautiful-boy-review-tiff/

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