Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Cast: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Kaitlyn Dever, Timothy Hutton, Andre Royo
RunTime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: M18 (Drug and Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures & Lighthouse Film Distribution for Amazon Studios
Official Website: https://www.beautifulboy.movie/
Opening Day: 25 October 2018
Synopsis: Beautiful Boy is a deeply moving portrait of a family’s unwavering love and commitment to each other in the face of their son’s addiction and his attempts at recovery. Based on two memoirs, one from acclaimed journalist David Sheff and one from his son, Nic Sheff. As Nic repeatedly relapses, the Sheffs are faced with the harsh reality that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and can hit any family at any time.
John Lennon’s lullaby was the title that journalist David Sheff chose for his memoir of his life-changing journey precipitated by his son’s descent into addiction; and if you’re familiar with the lyrics, you’ll probably agree that it is entirely befitting to describe not just the long road of recovery and relapse, but also the promise of parental protection from David to his son Nic. Director Felix Van Groeningen may have titled his movie after David’s memoir, but he and co-screenwriter Luke Davies have also drawn from Nic’s complementary book ‘Tweak’. So this fact-based account of an American family’s efforts to save their teenage son from drugs is really told from two perspectives – one, that of Nic, sinking into the abyss of addiction; and two, that of his father David, who is desperate at wits’ end to save him.
If it isn’t yet apparent, ‘Beautiful Boy’ isn’t an easy film to watch; in fact, it is harrowing, dispiriting and often frustrating. Part of that is due to the nature of addiction itself, which a clinic worker explains to a distraught David (Steve Carrell) when informing him that his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) has disappeared from the rehabilitation centre. “Relapse is a part of recovery,” she says, even though that is of little comfort to David. It means for us and for David that we, over the course of the movie, will see Nic going through the wrenching cycle of rehab-relapse-rinse-and-repeat, with no seeming end in sight to his inner emotional turmoil. In turn, we also see David go from confusion (what happened to his beautiful boy, he asks himself), to anguish, to helplessness, and finally to futility (as he finally comes to terms with the fact that Nic will have to choose his own path in life).
In between juggling these two points-of-view, the film also weaves in a whole tapestry of flashbacks, which largely show both father and son in happier times before. These sometimes seemingly random shots of the past add depth to the relationship between David and Nic, especially seeing as how Nic had stayed with his dad after his parents divorced, and had come to accept his dad’s new family as his own. Heck the pair were so close that Nic used to smoke joints with his dad, which also illuminates the torrent of emotions which David feels after discovering that Nic had subsequently moved to much stronger stuff. Flitting between past and present does result in a fractured chronology which can be disorienting at times, but on the whole, these insertions makes David’s subsequent heartbreak feel a lot more intimate.
As it rightly should, the movie belongs largely to Carrell and Chalamet, both of whom play their roles superbly. Carell is quietly devastating as a father who is grappling with the extent of his son’s addiction, first asking himself just what went wrong or what he did wrong, then grasping at straws watching Nic recover and relapse without warning, and finally coming to terms with the limits of his own abilities at breaking the cycle. On the other hand, Chalamet is truly agonising to watch as a young man unable to lift himself out of the void that fuels his addiction, and powerless to escape the hold that drugs have over his life. Both Tierney and Ryan are excellent in their supporting roles as Nic’s stepmom and biological mom respectively, and in their scenes with David and Nic, illustrate the toll that Nic’s condition takes on both families.
Like we said, ‘Beautiful Boy’ isn’t at all comfortable viewing, right down to its open ending, which suggests though that Nic has been eight years clean, his struggle is by no means completely over. But in the midst of the opioid epidemic sweeping over the United States, it is a timely and powerful call for stronger upstream regulation of such drugs and for more downstream support of recovery and rehab programmes. It is also for us a useful reminder just why we had taken a zero tolerance stance against drugs, and why we remain so cautious about legalising marijuana, even for medicinal reasons. You don’t have to be a parent to understand just what David is going through as Nic careens on the abyss, but especially if you’re a parent, this portrait of the fear, anxiety but inevitability of letting go of your child’s life is one that will cut deep and sharp.
(Raw, intimate and harrowing to watch, this portrait of the toll that a teenage son's addiction takes on his loving father is beautiful in its portrayal of pain, helplessness and enduring love)
Review by Gabriel Chong