Based on the best-selling memoirs of father and son, David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy really is a heartfelt, saddening, astute and hopeful drama that offers up a deep, true perspective on drug addiction, the nature of that darkness within and how much families go through in the hope of coming out, somehow, on the better side. No matter your background.
Because Beautiful Boy is taken from the lives of David (played here by Steve Carell) and Nic (Timothée Chalamet), with Nic taking on the full toll of addiction through every type of drug in his younger years, there’s a deep poignancy that never fades. In the US, overdose is the biggest killer of people under 50, it’s an epidemic, and yet help and support is still something every day people struggle to find out about, almost as if some believe it isn’t there for them, when it is.
Opening with a flash-forward of Steve Carell’s portrayal of Nic’s father David, we witness him asking for information from a professional, because he wants to know more about crystal meth, the drug that Nic’s currently addicted to. We then drift back to a year before but this gives us a brief understanding of the intentions of the people around Nic, and how they want to help him.
The concept of time jumping back and forth is a motif throughout the film, mostly revealing David’s memories of Nic as he was growing up, and the ‘good times’ they had. It’s a clear indication that he had a positive upbringing and that addiction doesn’t always stem from a ‘bad upbringing’ or the usual stereotype represented on-screen. This element is vital; it’s different and very real. From the past to the future, from innocence to the brutal reality of now, this could be any kid; it could be you, that’s the intention.
Directed by Felix van Groeningen, and co-written with Lion’s Luke Davies, we’re drawn into the chronicle of the addiction, rehab and recovery cycle that so many people find themselves stuck in. While in some surroundings it could be repetitive to watch, or frustrating, there’s only a moment later on the film when you really dislike Nic (breaking into his own family home) but beyond that the empathy levels are high and the understanding fair and level, as if we’re David trying and hoping that his son will stay recovered after another relapse.
However, like anyone, there’s only so much a person can take and there’s only so much help you can offer. You feel the evolution of the struggle, through the anger, the hope and even the feeling that maybe, there’s some things you can’t solve. We witness how dependence can be in the very nature of your mind, a comment on how an individual deals with reality and how some people can’t fight it, it’s a deep , dark emptiness and it is tougher to fight than just hoping it’ll go away, it’s not just feeling isolation, it’s alienation within.
But Beautiful Boy isn’t just about the roughness in life; it’s beautifully shot with a soft, light-filled lens, always offering hope through the trees and also features a sublime use of songs. Moments when David heads off to college lift the load but, again, he relapses and this pattern continues until extreme instances evolve. The film also offers us a deeper understanding in the Scientific sense, telling us how crystal meth works in the brain and how it causes nerve damage that only increases the desire and ‘need’ to use, this is a useful context.
On the cast side, everyone gives honest, devastating, and hopeful performances right through. Maura Tierney excels at being both the centre of calmness and teetering on the edge of hopelessness, Steve Carell is powerful as he continually tries to control himself, his life and his son and, of course, Timothée Chalamet as Nic, gives a brutally honest portrayal of every moment of feeling and emotion, it’s a masterclass from the impressive young actor in a film that’s absolutely worth your time, your heart and your head.
The extras include a look at the cinematic journey of the film, a really interesting interview with Nic and David Sheff and their true story – and how it developed into a film onscreen – an ensemble cast featurette and interviews with Amy Ryan, Carell and Chalamet, they all give you an even deeper insight into the story and the truth behind what you’ve watched.
Beautiful Boy is out now on Digital Download, and comes to Blu-ray and DVD on 20 May. Order it here: https://amzn.to/2EhCLMO
If you, or someone in your family, is suffering from problems with addiction and in the UK, please visit Mind.org: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/addiction-and-dependency