Based on a true story, Beautiful Boy is adapted from not one, but two books by father and son David and Nic Sheff and is the first English language film from director Felix van Groeningen (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”, “The Misfortunates”).
One of the books was written by the father, David, Steve Carell (“Welcome To Marwen“, “Vice“), whilst the other was written by his son Nic, Timothee Chalamet (“Lady Bird“, “Call Me By Your Name”), and so you get a unique perspective on what both drug taker and drug takers family, are going through.
Nic grew up in a lovely part of the world, the beach on his doorstep, a loving family that are comfortable. The sort of family, living in the sort of place, that would think drug-addiction can’t happen to them. Of course, it can, and it does.
Nic takes more and more, moving from drug to drug, as the high’s get more and more elusive. He enters rehab, relapses, runs-away, comes back, appears clean, relapses. In all it was some ten-years of his life before he finally managed to kick the habit once and for all.
Carell is great as the father, venting his frustration at his son, asking ‘why’, wanting to help. But it’s his new wife Karen, Maura Tierney (“The Good Wife (TV)”, “ER (TV)”), who realises he can’t help his son, his son needs to help himself.
Chalamet, who dropped some 20 pounds to play the role of Nic, is this shy and retiring boy who, despite having a gift for writing, feels the weight of the world is on him and turns to drugs to shut out the mundane elements of his life.
He performs the part well, for me he’s at his best when he’s angry or frustrated, not able to get what he wants, money usually. In the slower, more intimate moments of the film I have a hard time believing Chalamet is a drug addict, but perhaps that’s the whole point.
Groeningen, who co-wrote with Luke Davis (“Lion“, “Life”), handles the subject matter with delicacy and lots of soft focus. Despite the harsh realities we are witnessing, despite the subject matter, despite people OD’ing, it still all looks amazing.
If there’s a flaw, and there is a flaw, it’s that this soft focus, the decision to show off this beautiful location of Marin County, means it all feels a little too sanitary. Whilst we do witness Nic performing CPR on his girlfriend, and him shooting up at various times, we are never shown the true gritty nature of what he went through.
According to his book, Nic, in a bid to fund his habit, turned to prostitution, as well as taking larger and larger gambles in his drug taking.
Rather than seeing any of that, Groeningen elects to show the beautiful coastline, or beach. Or we get another flashback as a young Nic, Jack Dylan Glazer (“It“, “Shazam”) amongst others, is shown as this ‘how could it happen to him’ boy.
Beautiful Boy is carried by some beautiful performances and beautiful locations. Yes, it shows that addiction is a major problem, that it can happen to anyone, but will it make people sit-up and do something about it? I doubt it.
The Blu-ray transfer is stunning and you get some short extras: The Cinematic Journey, The True Story Behind The Film, Ensemble Cast Featurette, Trailer and interviews with Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet and Amy Ryan who plays Nic’s birth-mother.