Beautiful Boy Reviews
What does seem to be a common positive throughout the reviews is the excellence of the leads, and that I completely agree with. Timoth├ (C)e Chalamet is amazing as he transforms from the happy, healthy, angelic early version of his character into a broken drug addict. And damn, Steve Carell is killing it in these 'serious' roles! Though that isn't surprising, really... He is a legend.
Yeah, this film might be a bit flawed, but it is beautiful all the same. Bring tissues.
Based on the memoirs Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, written for the screen by Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen, and directed by van Groeningen in his English language debut, Beautiful Boy is a film about the horrors of addiction, told from the perspective of both an addict and his father. Focusing on David's attempts to understand and fight against his son's addiction to crystal meth, the film aims for a no-frills sans-sentimental authenticity. Serving as a showcase for the two lead actors (Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet, both of whom are exceptional), there's little in the way of plot, and whilst it is certainly heartfelt and respectfully told, there's precious little emotional engagement. The most notable aspect of Beautiful Boy is the structure, which is both cyclical and non-linear - the film is made up of a series of high and lows following Nic and David through relapse and recovery, whilst at the same time, there are multiple flashbacks, with scenes in the present giving characters occasion to think about moments from the past. This technique is used throughout, often flashing back to happier memories of Nic's childhood. The problem is that it's overused; there's barely a scene that doesn't have some kind of temporal cutaway. Sometimes the flashbacks do work, but a lot of the time, it feels like an unjustified piece of trickery without much establishing context.
As regards the repetitive nature of the story, I understand what van Groeningen was going for - it is supposed to mirror the back and forth nature of addiction, a two steps forward, one step back staccato motion. However, the film falls into a pattern of Nic showing up looking a little more dishevelled than he did before, followed by David doing everything he can to help, followed by his failure to get through to Nic, followed by Nic disappearing, followed by Nic showing up looking a little more dishevelled than he did before, etc. And whilst this may lend itself to a certain authenticity, it doesn't make for very effective drama.
A major theme is that of the father-son relationship. With both actors giving superb performances, one really sees the bond between the two, and how much Nic's addiction is destroying both of them. In this sense, the real tragedy isn't the rehabs and relapses, it's seeing Nic drift further and further away from a man who would die to protect him.
With lesser performances, the film would crumble under the weight of van Groeningen's heavy-handed direction. Thankfully the performances are strong enough that the style distracts rather than undermines. That said, the benefit of the non-linear storytelling is that it allows Chalamet and Carell to really drive home how much their relationship changes, with their playful and happy earlier scenes contrasting heart-breakingly with the fraught and destructive times of later years. Chalamet's is the more physical of the two performances, conveying so much via his body language as he completely inhabits the character. Carell, for his part, does most of his best work with his eyes, conveying the sadness and desperation he feels.
Despite all of these positives, however, there are significant problems. For one, van Groeningen doesn't depict some of the darker aspects of Nic's story. For example, he turned to prostitution at one point to fund his addiction. Additionally, as his hits from crystal meth continued to diminish over time, he started shooting it up, which is insanely dangerous. Leaving out aspects such as this gives the film a kind of sanitised feeling. This kind of heart-breaking sordid detail would have helped the film immeasurably, especially in relation to its lack of emotional engagement.
This lack is the most egregious problem. A film of this nature, based on a true story, should be an emotional rollercoaster, but the audience is always removed, the emotions seen rather than experienced, as if we're looking at the rollercoaster instead of riding it. Although you certainly feel empathy and sympathy for David and Nic, you don't feel a huge amount else. It's also not a good sign that, for me, the most emotive part of the whole thing was hearing Nic himself reading a monologue from his book over the closing credits.
There have been some truly great films made about addiction; The Man With the Golden Arm, Days of Wine and Roses, The Panic in Needle Park, Trainspotting, Leaving Las Vegas, The Basketball Diaries, Requiem for a Dream. Beautiful Boy is nowhere near anything of this calibre. A straightforward and forgettable story, when it should be shocking, disturbing, and emotionally devastating. And whilst it is definitely heartfelt, its lack of emotional engagement, its repetitiveness, its distracting structure, all serve to grate against the incredible performances.
Timothy Chalamut was incredibly raw as Steve Carrel´┐ 1/2 1/2(TM)s young son...grateful to have seen this!