Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet star as father and son in Felix van Groeningen’s poignant new family drama Beautiful Boy, based on two memoirs, one written by Jewish American writer David Sheff and the other by his son Nic. The film charts the father’s struggle to understand what motivates his son’s reckless actions which lead to meth addiction.
New York Times contributor David (Carell) finds himself at a loss when his teenage son Nic (Chalamet) starts experiencing with hard drugs. Having always had a deep connection with the boy, David can no longer recognise the son he loves “more than anything in the world” as the young man’s life slowly descends into a vicious circle of addiction, recovery and relapse.
Unwilling to sit back and watch helplessly while Nic destroys his life, David looks into the science behind addiction in the hope of better understanding what his son is going through. Eventually, inevitably, he realises that you can only ever help someone if they’re willing to help themselves first.
Van Groeningen has made a deeply moving film. Unfortunately, it is marred by a glossy look which jars with the content; and a needlessly meandering screenplay. At times, Beautiful Boy also suffers from its decision to stick, perhaps too rigidly, to the father-son dynamic of the original source material whilst relegating its female characters, particularly Nic’s mother (Amy Ryan) and step-mother (Maura Tierney), to mere onlooker status.
Carell is utterly brilliant in his best role since Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014). He brings a real sense of authenticity and likability to a character who you can’t help but root for.
Chalamet, who wowed audiences in his 2017 Oscar nominated turn as precocious gay teenager Elio in Call Me By Your Name, does an impeccable job of depicting the vulnerability and the duplicitous nature of an addict, even though the poorly executed script ultimately fails him.
It’s a shame that these flaws dull the film’s message, because there’s an audience of young, recreational drug users and their parents who need to see it.
Despite its shortcomings, Beautiful Boy delivers a powerful message of love and understanding with a great deal of tenderness while highlighting some complex issues related to the addiction crisis currently sweeping America.