“Beautiful Boy” Movie Review


     The hardships of drug addiction on a person, and those closest to them, is unquestionably one of the most difficult obstacles someone can attempt to overcome.  Looking at this scenario from the perspective of both the user and a family desperate to help, “Beautiful Boy” is a poignant and startling story of a father’s fight to help his son through his late teen years as he struggles with drug use and the expectations of his family of which he feels he will never meet.  Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, the film is based on the memoirs written by David Sheff and Nic Sheff, a true life father and son duo of whom the film’s story is based on.  The sheer turbulence on screen presents a harrowing scenario where any positive outcome seems nearly impossible, as the family must ultimately determine when their own son is beyond helping.  A decision that is as gut wrenching as any a parent would have to make.

     Following up his Oscar nominated performance in 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name”, Timothee Chalamet delves deep within the soul of Nic Sheff, portraying the character with the kind of raw emotion and realism that could certainly have him back in the awards conversation again this year.  Nic is an 18 year old expected by his father, David (Steve Carell), to go to college and enjoy the kind of success we all want for our children.  And while Nic has certainly benefitted from an upper class upbringing thanks to his father’s success as a writer, he is the product of a broken home with his parents divorcing when he was young.  His mother moved away, limiting visits to the holidays, leaving his father to raise him.  Soon after the divorce, David married again and had two children with his second wife, Karen (Maura Tierney).  Those of us who have ourselves been involved in similar scenarios know the potential pitfalls of this dynamic.  No matter how much attention David would give Nic, there would always be others requiring his attention as well.  And often times the kid in the middle isn’t so quick to sign off on such an arrangement.

     The narrative structure utilized by Van Groeningen is little messy.  The story shifts between what seems like dozens of timelines, flashing forward and then back so many times, it can be difficult to keep track of.  Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to depict the chaotic nature of these true events by keeping the audience off balance, but the result leads to confusion and may have been better suited as a story told in a more linear fashion.  Nonetheless, the film remains a powerful force throughout.  Not once did I notice any kind of needless camera movement or unnecessary fluff employed by Van Groeningen in order to score points for artistry.  Instead, the director simply points his camera in close up on his actors and lets them perform.  A wise decision given the subject matter and the incredible talent he is working with.

     It must’ve been three quarters of the way through before we finally meet Nic’s mother, Vicki (Amy Ryan), who attempts to shepherd her son through one of the many addiction programs he takes part in over several years, only to relapse each time.  The affects of drug addiction are obvious when we see Nic attempting to cope with his life as it unfolds around him, but what “Beautiful Boy” really excels at is ensuring we understand the strain a teenager can put on a couple who do not share that child in common.  Sure, Karen indicates she will treat Nic like her own son, but these relationships (Step Parent / Step Child) are filled with an unending array of potential landmines as it is.  Inject an issue such as the step child being addicted to drugs, and the blood parent now becoming consumed with helping instead of tending to his new family’s needs, and you have a classic slippery slope.  And there is no book to read that can provide answers.

     Nic himself remains lost throughout the process, as he attempts to live life independently of his family, while often returning in order to get money or steal valuables he can sell in order to maintain his habit.  He freely admits his disease is of his own doing and refuses to categorize his problem with a sickness such as cancer.  But despite the repeated attempts to help from those who care deeply for him,  something internally drives him to make the wrong decision.  It’s a state of mind I hope to never understand.

     Despite the outstanding work by Chalamet, it is the ever dependable Steve Carell who anchors the film with a steady and nuanced performance indicative of the emotional roller coaster he finds himself on as his son falls deeper into the darkness of addiction.  As the custodial parent, he endures phone calls from Nic’s mother, who from far away blames him for their son’s problems.  At home, he tries to shield his younger son and daughter from any outward displays of negativity, yet there is also the lingering issue of Karen’s patience wearing thin as she begins to see things spiraling out of control.  Imagine being Karen, having to endure all of this with virtually no say in potential solutions as her husband David and his ex wife are thrust back together in order to deal with something few people will truly understand.  These are real issues that society has yet to determine proper solutions for.  Everyone is different and no case is the same.  And given the circumstances here, it’s amazing it didn’t end much worse than it did.  GRADE: B+