Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Steve Carell, Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney, Jack Dylan Grazer, Zachary Rifkin, Kue Lawrence
Words – Rhiannon Topham
When I came out of the screening for Beautiful Boy, I overheard a woman behind me say “when he [Steve Carell] is fretting about where his son is at the beginning, it reminded me of all the times I snuck out as a teenager and how much it must have worried my parents.”
This struck me as quite an innocent interpretation of the harsh and brutal tale of addiction and familial destruction we’d just seen.
Maybe that was director Felix Van Groeningen’s point – we can’t all understand what a disease as unrelenting as methamphetamine addiction feels like, or what it does to a parent watching their child deteriorate before their eyes, but we can empathise with the imperishable love we have for our loved ones in spite of the anguish they cause.
Beautiful Boy is based on author and journalist David Sheff’s book of the same name, as well as his son Nic’s personal account of his battle with meth, Tweak. It’s these two parallel narratives, interwoven and simultaneously disconnected, which give the film its depth and intimacy.
Yet it also seems to be what inspired the non-linear, chopped up depiction of the story – intentionally jagged and disconcerting as Nic would have experienced his mental and physical decline, but unintentionally difficult to follow for audiences. Some scenes are inexplicably thrown in as if to appease the sheer sufferance the main characters with memories of Nic’s happy, healthy and ‘beautiful’ childhood, others as if to provide a apt cutaway to the next unconnected scene.
Timothée Chalamet does a sterling job in his portrayal of Nic’s fragility and the proverbial line he tows between emotional and financial reliance on his father and the desire for independence, every purse of the lips a portrait of his commitment to depicting the vicious circle of Nic’s constant disappointments to himself and his family, and a reminder that this actor has whatever ‘it’ is to storm Hollywood the way he has.
But Steve Carell really deserves the credit for bringing the heart and soul needed to carry the film out of the depths of despair and into more optimistic, and then realistic, ground. As Nic’s dad David, Carell respects the sad reality that innumerable families have to live with – that although living with and loving an addict can become all-consuming, and this can be bewildering and painful and overwhelming, ultimately the cure to addiction lies with the addict themselves.