If I had no inclination to read David and Nic Sheff’s memoirs “Beautiful Boy” and “Tweak” before seeing this movie, that inclination has changed. I need to read these memoirs. I want to be inspired all over again in ways that only this story can produce.
No matter what your connection to drug addiction may be, it’s almost impossible to have dry eyes while experiencing “Beautiful Boy.” It’s heartbreaking to watch Nic Sheff’s (Timothee Chalamet) decline into crystal meth use, but it inspires an unsuspecting viewer to care. It’s a film about the ups and downs that come with an addict’s life – as predictable as they can sometimes be. The film details a realistic father-son dynamic between David (Steve Carell) and Nic, as the father watches his son fall from drug use, rise into sobriety, and then fall back down again, worse than before. As David asserts, their relationship is “closer than most fathers and sons,” and that makes Nic’s choices all the more difficult to watch.
It’s not a completely linear movie, perhaps to reflect Nic’s peaks and valleys or David’s confusion that his “beautiful boy” is living on the streets for meth, but it works for the most part. Flashbacks blend effortlessly into present-day scenes or vice-versa, such as Nic being found by his father in a dirty alley, puking in the car and then being picked up from school years earlier, perfectly happy. It’s an odd brand of pacing, but one that matches with the anxiety and frenzy.
However, the script is not the only element that makes “Beautiful Boy” such a successful tearjerker. Carell and Chalamet deliver tour-de-force performances. Carell, known for his comedic roles (Michael Scott in “The Office”), is a laid back but tragic figure who just wants all the answers. We watch as he conveys the stages of grief, realizing he can’t fix or change his son. Timothee Chalamet, who has garnered quite a bit of acclaim for his brutally honest and Oscar nominated performance in Call Me By Your Name (2017, Luca Guadagnino), does a complete 180 here. He’s manic and antagonistic throughout “Beautiful Boy,” channeling James Dean vibes whenever he goes toe-to-toe with Carell. He talks and acts exactly like a dependent addict, and manages to emanate different levels of “high.” When he’s just a little stoned, he pulls it off casually. When he’s hyperactive from (or without) his meth, he startles with quick movements; all while Carell is forced to endure it. Both should be in the running for Best Lead Actor awards, but it’s rumored that Chalamet will pursue Supporting.
This is a film that wants you to sit back and let the emotions take control. Aside from the odd (but on-point) editing, there are very few stylistic shots or techniques that director Felix van Groeningen implements into the film. It doesn’t need anything fancy on a visual level, though there is a scene that is technically done in “one take” by using two cameras; getting perfectly timed reactions from Carell and Chalamet. The soundtrack likewise molds into every scene perfectly, including John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy).”
Some have criticized “Beautiful Boy” for being cliché and predictable, but how else to make the addiction epidemic hit hard than to appear in something we’re comfortable with? Founded by heartbreaking truths and held together by stellar acting, “Beautiful Boy” is certainly a powerful film, but also an inspiring one. We’re meant to crumble with Nic and understand that he can get back up again, stronger than ever.