Based on the real-life memoirs of David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his son, Nick (Timothée Chalamet), Beautiful Boy tells the story of an 18-year-old attempting to overcome his addiction to crystal meth, his brief stints of sobriety, his relapses back into addiction and, all the while, his father’s attempts to understand and support a son who isn’t quite the person he thought he knew.
From the outset, Beautiful Boy makes it clear that this story will be filled with disappointments. Nick Sheff is presented as an intelligent young man with the talent and know-how to be offered multiple college opportunities, and possesses a keen urge to follow his father’s career as a writer. Nic’s only flaw, at least initially, is his fondness for smoking weed as a break from reality.
When the extent of his drug use is revealed, and the subsequent recoveries and relapses occur, the disappointment grows deeper and deeper until, like his father towards the film’s conclusion, the audience is left crushed and exasperated.
Carell and Chalamet do a fantastic job of portraying the Sheffs at their highest highs and their lowest lows, the latter of which showcases both their chemistry and individual acting chops. Chalamet is consistently adding notches to his belt of phenomenal performances, and, after award nominations for his roles in Foxcatcher and The Big Short, Carell has proved once again that he’s capable of holding his own beyond comedy films.
Felix Van Groeningen’s direction, paired with brilliant editing from Nico Leunen, lures the audience into a false sense of security and satisfaction when things appear to be improving for the Sheff family. There are multiple sequences with rapidly interchanging shots of who Nic was, the addict he became, and the success story he appears to be becoming, only to reel back the reality that, just like Nic explains earlier, we wish to take a break from.
This aspect of Beautiful Boy is one that’s going to either make it or break it for the viewer; while some will love the way these moments make the frustration of recovery more relatable, others may find almost two hours of having hopes lifted only to be subsequently crushed a rollercoaster they don’t want to ride anymore.
For almost 20 years, Requiem for a Dream has been the gold standard of films to deter younger audiences from drug use. While it will probably remain at the top of the pedestal, Beautiful Boy offers a slightly less distressing option in achieving the same effect.
In cinemas: October 25, 2018
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen