Based on memoirs by David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy, from director Felix Van Groeningen, tells the story of the struggles of a father (Steve Carell) trying to help his son (Timothée Chalamet) through the battle of drug abuse and addiction.
What started with maybe just a few too many joints to take the edge of things, very quickly spirals into the need for crystal meth to make reality bearable. While Nic’s addiction is progressing through every drug on the planet, David is still contemplating his beautiful boy, the talented, creative and brilliant kid who he thinks he knows inside out.
Their relationship is special, more intimate and profound than most fathers and sons. They want to share their lives with one another, be it with Nic standing at the altar at his father’s second wedding, or a joint smoked together when he gets into all the colleges he applied for.
What hurts David the most when Nic first disappears on one of his drug trips is not the list of substances that his child has been doing, but that he was not telling him about his drug use. Their relationship isn’t as strong as he once thought, and his power to help and protect him is in danger.
The film has been criticised for the privileged depiction it gives of drug culture. And despite the opportunity Nic has to go into rehab multiple times, thanks to his father’s financial support, what the film is trying to do is to not make you empathise with Nic and follow his chronicle of relapses.
The film very clearly sets out in its first scene that the character we should identify with is not Nic but David. We care about Nic because David does, we want to help him because David does, and we don’t know how because David doesn’t.
While the cast delivers masterful performances and brilliantly sets out the characters’ motivations and relationships, it struggles a bit to get the emotions out. It is not as tear-jerking as it could have been, being such a heartfelt tale of families being separated and disrupted by a cancerous entity that no-one can control, and all feel guilty for.
Maybe it’s because, not being a parent, I could only virtually empathise with the themes of the film. Or maybe it’s because knowing that Nic survived and wrote a book about his experience removed all sense of dread from the film. Or maybe it is because of Chalamet’s understated performance. Whichever the reason was, the film lacks pathos.
Though with a two-hour showtime it is still quite an enjoyable film which also raises a lot of societal issues about the world of drugs and treatment.
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