Inspired by memoirs from a father and son, Beautiful Boy shows the devastating impact of addiction. It’s a gripping and heartbreaking story of a father’s fight to save his son from a disease that has taken over the kid he once knew. Such a moving film with a complicated subject makes it hard to label it as an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately there are some other important components that prevented me from becoming fully engaged.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film you know that it is emotionally charged, painful to watch, and at times upsetting. The supporting cast including Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, and a brief appearance from Kaitlyn Dever, all give solid performances. Each of them brings a certain level of overall quality to it, but it’s the performances from the two leads that truly stand out. Steve Carell was perfectly cast as David Sheff, a father desperate for answers about his son’s addiction to methamphetamine. He is the perfect choice in this role and has become a consistently strong dramatic actor that you can depend on. Carell’s performance is passionate, your heart aches for the loss of his relationship with Nic. You feel his helplessness every time Nic relapses and the roller coaster begins all over again. Timothee Chalamet also gives a powerful performance, as David’s son, Nic Sheff. Chalamet is an incredibly talented young actor so this isn’t surprising. Like Carell he has quickly become consistent and even though he hasn’t been making movies for very long, he brings maturity to his performances that is uncommon for someone so young.
While Carell and Chalemet are excellent on their own, they are even better together. Their scenes are full of real, raw emotions that beautifully play off each other. You cannot help but empathize with David and all the pain he’s going through. It’s equally as painful to watch Nic each time he’s sober or high. When he’s high it’s uncomfortably sad but watching him when he’s sober is equally as difficult. Like David you pray you’re wrong but deep down you know that a relapse is just around the corner.
In addition to the performances, the cinematography by Ruben Impens stood out to me. There were some truly riveting shots of the California coast that provided you with some much needed time to step back from what’s going on and breathe. This was a wise decision because the highs and lows of watching a family suffer from addiction do not make for an enjoyable time. My largest issues with Beautiful Boy are the score and the screenplay. While I was watching I found myself thinking about the score, but not as a positive. A good score can transport you into the film and add depth to your understanding. A bad one can ruin it. There was quite a few times where I was emotionally removed simply because of the odd music selection. Instead of being present with characters, my emotions were engaged elsewhere. At times it even felt like the song selections were toying with you, some were a bit too on the nose. They didn’t need to tell you that your emotions should be heightened; Carell and Chalamet were already doing a fantastic job of communicating that.
My final issue is the screenplay written by Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen. It was all over the place with its timeline. Much like a memoir this story is told in a series of memories that don’t follow a specific linear path. This makes it very tough to understand what is happening and when. Seeing Nic as a little boy was easy to determine but it became an issue when he was older. There is no differentiation between Nic as a young teenager and Nic in his 20s. It would have been helpful to provide the audience with some type of indicator. Because of this I couldn’t totally engage in what was going on between Nic and David because in the moment I was too preoccupied trying to figure out where this scene fit in the complete timeline of events. It sounds like a small issue but after awhile it became more and more frustrating.
Regardless of its issues this is still a film worth seeing but the difficult subject matter and emotionally charged screenplay tell me I won’t be interested in a rewatch anytime soon. Carell and Chalamet are excellent and their performances will move you. The areas where I had issues didn’t completely ruin my experience but they took away from it and prevented me from completely engaging.
4 out of 5 stars
Director: Felix van Groeningen Writer: Luke Davies (screenplay by), Felix van Groeningen (screenplay by) Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan Release Date: October 26th Rated: R Runtime: 2 hours