Beautiful Boy tells the heart-wrenching story of Nicolas Sheff (Timotheé Chalamet)- a young meth addict, whose father David (Steve Carell) attempts to save his son from destroying his life.
Carell, as an original comedy actor, has flexed his ability to produce serious roles on a handful of occasions. None less impressive is his performance as an urgently determined father on the brink of hopelessness. Felix Van Groeningen maintains a sharp focus on the father-son-relationship, hanging in the balance of Nic’s addiction. Though the film centres on the struggles Nic faces against his incessant impulses, at the core of the story is David’s strained endeavours to understand him. Chalamet gives an equally admirable portrayal of the desperate frustration that comes with addiction. A frustration that translates into us as an audience, as we find ourselves infuriated by his torment. From subtle twitching when smoking ‘a little pot’ to full blown meth paranoia. Chalamet gives a raw and heartfelt performance which should no doubt bring home some awards.
Groeningen achieves a near-perfect balance between sentimentality (through David’s nostalgic, hopeful eyes) and the harsh reality of drug abuse. The bitter-sweet rendition of meth’s traumatic consequences is honest, yet without depressing the audiences into an oblivion of despondency. Nic tornadoes through his family’s lives in an effort to ‘fill this black hole in me.’ Thus, we are pummelled with false victories and empty promises. Groeningen keeps us in a constant state of climax and disappointment, mirroring the reality of drug relapse in its endless toil.
Perhaps it is the contrast depicted through Nic’s childhood potential that makes his self-destruction that much more heartbreaking. Ruben Impens simplistic cinematography elegantly encapsulates the innocent joys of childhood, against an unblemished portrait of drug culture. Sunlit bike rides to jazz music juxtaposes the dingy public bathroom where Nic injects his bruised arm. Some critics may find the wave-surfing romanticization of the past a little superficial. However, I think it’s important to show the true boy behind his addiction (which he describes is not the problem, but the way addicts handle it). Rehabilitation is possible, Groeningen urges us. But also reminds that it is not easy, nor guaranteed.
There is no running through fields of flowers, floating above beds or comedic crawling into cars with Beautiful Boy. Groeningen simplistically lays out the reality of the story, which is based on true events. Pretty-yet-basic cinematography shows the true nature of drugs for what it is: damaging and ultimately unfulfilling. There was, for me, an air of The Basketball Diaries (Scott Kalvert, 1995) about Beautiful Boy. That is if Leonardo DiCaprio’s teen heroin-addict had a strong father figure…rather than being left to deplete on the street. Just as DiCaprio begs outside his mother’s door for drug money, Chalamet gives a number of memorably frenzied performances.
So what if the tone is a little sentimental? I believe that was Groeningen’s point; that behind even the ugliest of situations, there is yet an ounce of hope. The acting was powerfully affectionate, direction clear and message gruellingly honest. Inspiring is perhaps not the word, but moving- definitely.
Drama | USA, 2018 | 15 | 11th January 2019 (UK) | Studiocanal | Dir.Felix van Groeningen | Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet,Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney