Film Review: Beautiful Boy (USA, 2018) is a powerful meditation on drug addiction, told by a user’s helpless father

We always hurt the ones we love the most. This is certainly the case with Beautiful Boy. The film is an emotional drama about a father who is grappling with his son’s drug addiction. It’s a very human and poignant story.

This film is the English language debut for director, Felix Van Groeningen. The plot is inspired by two separate memoirs; David Sheff’s one, which shares the film’s title and Tweak by Nic Sheff. This is adapted for the screen by Luke Davies and the director. While both memoirs informed the production, the primary source is David’s work because this film focuses on the father’s perspective.

Steve Carell leaves all auspices of comedy at the door to play the multi-faceted, David. This character is a remarried divorcee, a father of three and a freelance journalist by trade. So when his eldest son becomes a drug addict, his response is to go on a fact-finding mission. David researches addiction in an attempt to understand and solve his son’s problem.

Timothée Chalamet is fresh from his excellent turn in Call Me by Your Name. He is equally as commanding here in the role of the troubled addict, Nic. On the one hand Nic is the bright and beautiful boy the title suggests; he shows great empathy and compassion for people and he excels at school. But his experimentations with drugs soon lead to addiction. Nic the addict is a very different character. He performs some heinous acts including stealing from his own father and young siblings to feed his escalating drug problem.

There are also women in this film but they play very secondary roles. Maura Tierney plays David’s second wife. She tries to support her step-son as much as she can but she is also the mother to two young children. Amy Ryan meanwhile, plays Nic’s mother who drops in from time-to-time via the telephone to ask her former husband for advice.

This plot isn’t a linear one. The disastrous cycle of addiction, relapse and recovery is interspersed with flashbacks of Nic growing up as a child and teenager. These flashbacks don’t follow any kind of structure so Nic may be an angry, Nirvana-listening teen one minute and a cherub-faced boy another. In a way this makes things feel more human because it doesn’t fit into a neat and tidy box. Audiences will be charmed and invested in Nic thanks to Chalamet’s fine work. This is despite the fact that Nic seems determined to continue on his self-destructive path.

This film is beautifully-shot. It also has a fantastic soundtrack that features: Neil Young, Radiohead and John Lennon, among others. Over the course of the story David – like the audience – learn that there are no easy answers or solutions to drug addiction. It proves that this a disease that doesn’t discriminate and can affect everybody. In doing so, it also has cataclysmic effects on the addict’s friends and family. Addiction isn’t something that stops with a user.

Beautiful Boy is a tense drama about a helpless father watching on as his son makes broken promises, offers false hopes and struggles to get clean. This sad film tackles some tough subject matter in an affecting way. This episodic story ultimately shows the highs and lows of drug addiction, and the family and friends who suffer as collateral damage.

 

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Beautiful Boy is in cinemas October 25th

Natalie Salvo

My writing portfolio can be found at: https://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com/