It may not possess the raw grit of a film like Requiem of a Dream or Trainspotting, but much like these, Beautiful Boy is an incredibly accurate portrayal of drug addiction and the effects it can have on loved ones. Much like a situation such as this, the film is an emotional roller-coaster as Nic bounces from being clean, to using, and back again. This is what sets it apart from the aforementioned two films in one regard. Also accurate is an addict’s nature to not only hide their use from loved ones, but when their problems first start, it is very typical to be in denial that they have any type of serious problem that needs to be dealt with immediately.
This accuracy isn’t surprising given it is based on a true story: specifically, books written by both David Scheff and Nic Scheff.
The film manages to avoid cliches for the most part, though it does use one stereotypical device: the use of flashback moments. The rise and fall of emotion is interrupted often by these scenes, which not only kill the momentum but worse still, they are unnecessary, unneeded, and give the smallest of glimpses into his past. An attempt to give an insight into the reason he began to use maybe, but this is not accomplished and renders them of no worth.
A device used well is, following the first scene where David tells a doctor that his son is addicted to methamphetamine, the film jumps back a year. In many cases this first scene is relevant to the end of the film, but here the scene reprises in the first act after David first realises that his son has become an addict.
Co-dependent relationships are extremely common among drug addicts, as is the case here, but this is a plot device that is not explored in depth. This and the problems with flashback scenes may be exacerbated by co-writer Luke Davies, who penned the screenplay of the incredibly overrated Lion.
The parents’ desperation escalates, dips, and escalates again as they verge on giving up. Nothing they say registers and they know it. Another unfortunate nature of addiction is the inability for others to understand it. From the outside, his family’s attempt to help is lost in the cosmos; Nic obviously unwilling to be a part of the conversation.
The pacing of the film is perfect, the ups and downs keep the audience guessing as to what Nic will do next: if he is clean, using but wanting to get clean, or lost completely within his drug-tinted world. His situation starts in an honest way, as he amusingly shares joint with his father. But this is hiding the truth. Mirroring the life of an addict, Nic’s desperation gradually rises to a point where some of his actions may seem unbelievable. They are not. Drug addiction is hell for everyone involved. When in this state not even a loving father can have any influence on his son’s next decision, and in this instance, David knows it. This leads him to make a difficult choice: despite the love he feels for his son, is there anything more he can do? Should he stop trying?
The first English language film by Felix Van Groeningen hits hard and real, not opting for anything tame, though this is another difference from the films mentioned earlier, as this is tame in comparison. Taken on its own though the film is visceral and simultaneously emotionally stirring.
Steve Carrel as the father, David Sheff, further demonstrates his ability to thrive in dramas, and Maura Tierney as the new wife Amy Ryan as his ex-wife (and mother of Nic) are a powerful emotional presence. All are extremely convincing in their roles, each growing in desperation as young Nic, another effortless, pained and versatile performance by Timothée Chalamet, falls further into the darkness of drug addiction: every person who cares about him are helpless and desperate.
Beautiful Boy, a fantastic title given the love Carrel shows towards his son, may not be as heavy-hitting as other films about addiction, but none of those feature such incredible dramatic acting, ranging from normal and warm conversations to the complete opposite. The chemistry Carrel and Chalamet share is incredibly moving, both in times of love and in pain. This is a timely film and given the powerful performances, it will hopefully garner the attention it deserves
So close to a full sixer, but a few flaws knock of one beer.
Five out of sixer
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