Finally, a film that lives up to its hype. We have been hearing about this film for what feels like years. And it was everything that it promised. This film follows David Sheff (Steve Carrell) as he deals with his son Nic’s (Timothee Chalamet) addiction to crystal meth. The strength of this film comes from the fact that it focuses on the family’s struggle to deal with addiction. It is a new perspective that we have not seen. Films about addiction usually focus on the addict themselves, but not on the effect their actions have on the ones closest to them. Nic’s addiction is very much at the center of this film, but at the same time, it is not focused on why he became an addict or the emotions he is dealing with. Instead, it is very much focused on his father’s attempts to help him and his ultimate decision to have to step away. I think this is a film that a lot of people in similar situations will be able to closely identify with.
The performances in this film were awesome. If I do not soon live in the same world as Academy Award winner Steve Carrell, I will be very sad. His performance in this film was incredible. It was as real as you can get in a film. It was so real that it felt like you were peering into the life of this family when you shouldn’t have been. It was a very personal story and you felt that at every moment. As a viewer, you almost feel like you are intruding. Timothee Chalamet was also amazing. He plays a very complicated character. At one moment, you feel like you have Nic figured out, and the next he does something that you just can’t understand. Chalamet plays this character wonderfully. Rounding out the cast is Maura Tierney as Karen, Nic’s stepmother. She plays a stoic motherly figure just trying to hold her family together. There is one particular scene where she allows herself to fall apart and it is heartbreaking. The performances really make this film what it is.
There are very few things that I did not enjoy about this film. The screenplay was beautifully adapted and the soundtrack was awesome. There was a minor pacing issue half way through the film that bugged me. But honestly, that is the biggest complaint I have. This will be a film that I watch over and over again. And I have a feeling that I will enjoy it more and more each time.
Beautiful Boy would be a must see even if all it offered were the incredible performances by Steve Carrell and Timothee Chalamet. Lucky for us, it offers more than that. This is a film full of powerful insights into how addiction impacts not just an individual, but his family as well. A lot of films about addiction focus on a protagonist who is an addict and places the family members in the supporting, and often antagonistic, roles. Beautiful Boy flips that formula and shoves the devastation in our faces. Not every scene is new territory and not every observation is fresh, but the sum total of it all packaged this way amounts to an emotional wallop.
Beautiful Boy is also one of those movies that sows a lot of mistrust in the reliability of the Tomatometer. As of Sunday, when we went to see this film, it had a score of 69% among all critics and 74% among top critics. Some common complaints I’ve read have to do with the repetitive nature of the plot. It’s supposed to be repetitive. That’s how addiction works. Beautiful Boy is not alone in its depiction of a character who wants to quit drugs but can’t, no matter how many times he cleans up. Where it stands out is in not providing easy to identify triggers for every relapse. The addiction itself and the damage crystal meth has done to Nic Sheff’s nerves are the main explanation provided.
I also didn’t mind the flashbacks the way some critics did. They mostly appeared in the first and second acts to provide some exposition, but didn’t make the story confusing and never seemed unnecessary. There are some clichés in the script, which is unfortunate, but subtle differences from other films about addiction, such as the aforementioned absence of over-the-top triggers, make up for the familiar plot points.
Above all, the acting is phenomenal, and not just on the part of Carrell and Chalamet, who are both Oscar worthy here. Maura Tierney hasn’t received enough praise for her work as Karen Barbour, Nic’s stepmom, but her scenes are further evidence that we need to see her in more movies.
Some of the music choices did annoy me. I think using Sunrise, Sunset during a late montage was a bit much and was jarring in an unintended way. It didn’t match the tone set by any of the other songs used and didn’t add anything to what we were seeing either. It came off a bit cheesy, which is something the rest of the film isn’t, even in its well-tread moments.