BFI #LFF 2018: BEAUTIFUL BOY Film Review

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in BEAUTIFUL BOY

BEAUTIFUL BOY into is a powerful and moving account of a father and son’s struggle with addiction and its tragic consequences

Felix Van Groeningen takes a unique perspective on drug addiction in his English-language debut by shifting the focus from the addict to the family in BEAUTIFUL BOY.

David Sheff (Steve Carell) has a life many would envy: a beautiful older teenage son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) to whom he is close; two younger children from his happy second marriage to artist Karen (Maura Tierney); a house near the north California coast; and notable success as a journalist with major publications like The New York Times and Rolling Stone. So when Nic casually experiments with marijuana to celebrate getting into college, David isn’t too alarmed by his son’s curiosity to try new things. But it isn’t long before Nic’s interest in drugs transforms into something more serious and before David realises what is happening, Nic is hooked on crystal meth.

Based on the best-selling memoirs by David and Nic Sheff, BEAUTIFUL BOY into is a powerful and moving account of a father and son’s struggle with addiction and its tragic consequences. Focusing on the impact on the Sheff family rather than Nic’s life as a drug user, Van Groeningen directs with soulful restraint to capture with startling intimacy Carell and Chalamet’s visceral performances. The result is an affecting, nuanced and humane portrayal of a family dealing with addiction over many years.

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in BEAUTIFUL BOY

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet give blistering performances here as the father and son caught in the vicious cycle of addiction. With his drawn, haggard face, Carell effectively portrays the helplessness of a parent who, no matter how hard he tries, cannot save his son from his addiction. Chalamet gives an equally nuanced performance as Nic, the young teen on a road to self-destruction as he navigates the emotional highs and lows of his addiction. Additionally, Maura Tierney as Nic’s supportive step-mother Karen and Amy Ryan as Nic’s often absent mom Vicki give strong supporting performances, even somewhat underutilized.

Yet, while there is a lot to admire in BEAUTIFUL BOY on a performance level, the beauty of Carell and Chalamet’s work is somewhat lost thanks to some poor narrative decisions. While Van Groeningen’s nonlinear structure effectively mimics the highs and lows of addiction, the constant jumps from the past to present make it easy to loose where you are in the story and this, together with the over-use of music montage, become a little frustrating after a while.

This is also a tough watch, with little to no relief in the script, meaning you’re likely to come out of the cinema feeling like you’ve taken an emotional beating for pretty much the full two-hour running time.

That said, this is a powerful story, which at its crux, it about a father letting go of his beloved son. Everything is covered here from rage and mania to desperation and love and the film goes some way to raising awareness of drug addiction and its tragic consequences.

A heart-breaking story of survival, relapse and recovery which stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

3.5 out of 5 stars

BEAUTIFUL BOY screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 13 October 2018.