Based upon memoirs by David Sheff and his eldest son Nic Sheff that talk about Nic’s addiction to crystal meth, Beautiful Boy serves as a raw, realistic and incredibly necessary film.
The drama takes on David’s (Steve Carell) perspective as he watches Nic’s (Timothée Chalamet) struggle with drug addiction, leaving him relentlessly questioning what has happened to his “beautiful boy” and how he can help him. This is not just a story about someone with a drug addiction, but one also about family love and how far it can be tested when faced with destructive, devastating circumstances.
The film is nothing short of an emotionally demanding journey as your heart aches just as much for helpless David who loves his son “more than everything”, but harshly has to realise he can’t control the disease, as it does for Nic when the addiction wins time and time again. Nic is often left feeling ashamed, at one point admitting: “This isn’t like cancer. This is my choice, I put myself here,” and professing he just wants his family to be proud of him.
The points in the film where it looks like things are on the up and Nic is on the right track (taking part in rehab, going to college, having dinner with his girlfriend’s family), it is a devastating, bleak reality check that addiction has no quick, short-term fix when he slips back into drug use.
Another important message within Beautiful Boy is that addiction can happen to, and can affect anyone. The Director, Felix Van Groeningen, chose to use a series of flashbacks in the film which allows us to see Nic growing up as a happy kid – singing in the car, surfing at the beach – and stereotypically, you wouldn’t expect a life like his to take a dark turn into addiction.
On the surface David looks like he is living an idealistic lifestyle; he is happily re-married, he has a beautiful home in California and he works as a successful journalist, and yet his family is being challenged by years of addiction.
In terms of the acting, Chalamet does a phenomenal job. He effortlessly exhibits an array of emotions, be it sadness, irritability, anger, shame, happiness or love, as we are taken on Nic’s journey. And though being named the youngest Oscar nominee for Best Actor in 80 years left expectations for his performance very high, he certainly proves he deserves all the hype surrounding him and more. The way he carries out the role is so flawless you forget you’re watching an actor.
Carell does an equally as great job. The love and struggle behind his eyes is convincing and touching, he can deliver lines with a painful softness in moments of despair (the scene in the diner where he asks: “Who are you Nic?” is particularly heart-breaking), and he can present a powerful, fiery performance in moments of extreme frustration. Co-stars Amy Ryan (David’s ex-wife) and Maura Tierney (David’s current wife) also bring their A-game.
Beautiful Boy is no cliché drug addiction movie. It places you directly in the middle of the realities of addiction and makes for a hard to digest but necessary reminder that addiction is happening, it could affect you, and we should all make ourselves aware of the epidemic.
Trailer courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Words: Amelia Richardson
Subbing: Milly McVay and Kiara Vigo