Based on a pair of memoirs by David and Nic Sheff, ‘Beautiful Boy’ takes place across a number of years as a father (Steve Carell) watches his son (Timothee Chalamet) struggle with drug addiction. Trapped in a vicious cycle of relapse and recovery, Nic’s addiction to crystal meth is damaging himself and his family. David goes to great lengths to help his son, but the question arises, at what point is there nothing left that he can do?
‘Beautiful Boy’ is a highly emotional and harrowing film. Its cyclical nature – Nic goes to rehab, starts to show signs of recovery, and then relapses again – makes it all the more difficult to watch. Pacing wise, it plods along and not a whole lot happens. Arguably though, this reflects the relentless and slow-paced nature of recovering from addiction.
As a father whose doted-upon, first-born son is addicted to drugs, Steve Carell’s performance is enthralling and moving. In the role of David, he determinedly shows love, affection and patience, rarely blowing up. As with any parent, he is completely stuck on what he can do to help. Carell has been increasingly, consciously choosing dramatic roles, having starred in ‘Foxcatcher’, ‘Welcome to Marwen’, ‘Last Flag Flying’ and ‘The Big Short’ among others in recent years. As if we didn’t know it before, he once again shows his amazing talent and range as an actor in ‘Beautiful Boy’.
The movie’s other star, Timothee Chalamet, has been one to watch for a while now. He stunned audiences in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Lady Bird’, with plenty more projects in the pipeline. However it’s Carell who steals the show, not necessarily because of his greater acting experience, but because ‘Beautiful Boy’s focus is mostly on the people the drug addict affects. You see that Nic’s addiction not only affects the parents (primarily his father) but, heartbreakingly, his little siblings as well. The film offers only glimpses into the psyche of the drug addict himself, for example, when David looks through a book that Nic has illustrated to document his growing addiction. Regarding other cast members, ‘ER’s Maura Tierney and Carell’s ‘The Office’ co-star Amy Ryan (the end of ‘The Office’ saw Carell and Ryan’s characters get married while here they play a divorced couple) also feature, but the movie is really about Chalamet and Carell’s characters’ relationship.
There are no easy answers offered as to why this issue emerged or how it can be resolved. Flashbacks between past and present (which can make the timeline hard to place), with some going right back to when Nic was an idyllic, innocent child, only make matters more obscure. We’re never told or shown what went wrong (if anything). We don’t even know how much the separation of Nic’s parents affected him (we do know, from when David remarries, that it must have occurred when he was still very young). ‘Beautiful Boy’ thus offers an impressive dialogue that destigmatises drug addiction and examines how it impacts a whole family unit. It is also a significant exploration on what lengths a parent will go to for their child – but be warned, it’s no popcorn movie.