Film Review: Beautiful Boy

 

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy is a biographical film based off of the memoirs created by father and son David and Nick Sheff; which details the drug addiction Nick has dealt with throughout his life.

The film is a dark reality of how addiction can tear relationships apart as David (Steve Carell) does everything in his power to help Nick (Timothée Chalamet) overcome the addiction which is destroying his life. Through numerous attempts of sobriety throughout the film, Beautiful Boy asks audiences when you would give up on helping someone who can not be saved, and what lengths that person has to go to for you to stop helping all together.

The stand out in this entire film are the performances by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that the pair are actually father and son in real life, as their relationship feels so organic, and compliment each other so beautifully in all of their scenes.

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Beautiful Boy is something completely different for Carrell and he completely shines in a deviation to his normal comedic performances. Carrell is strongest in the scenes where he is able to be more muted with his acting, as the subtleties in his actions really show a father who is torn about when enough is enough in helping his drug-addicted son.

Timothée Chalamet had a lot of high expectations to live up to in Beautiful Boy , as this is his first film role since  Call Me By Your Name , wherein his powerful lead performance as Elio earned him a nomination for Best Actor at this year's Academy Awards. His performance does not disappoint; Chalamet offers a stunning performance of Nick Sheff. He does an amazing job at manipulating the audiences to empathise with Nick, and leaves you constantly rooting for Nick to succeed even if his character is destroying the lives of the people around him.  

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Something this film does an amazing job at is setting up drug addiction in itself. So many times you hear people questioning why drug addicts keep falling back to their old bad habits and how they fail to get clean. The film does a massive service to those suffering from drug addiction by explaining the mechanics of addiction itself, and how once your body becomes addicted how truly difficult it is to then step away from addiction. As a member of the audience, you can see how hard Nick tries to overcome his addiction, but due to how his body works, he continuously falls back into his bad habits.  Making this so evident, means that even as an audience we are continuously supportive of Nick, even though we know the likelihood of how his sobriety is going to end up.

However, after a certain point in the film you do begin to predict what is going to happen. Nick is going to get sober, relapse, and then be helped by David in a new attempt at sobriety. The repetitive nature of the story could’ve been changed up a little bit had Groneningen chosen to include different parts of the original source material to include. It would’ve been really interesting as an audience to see how dark Nick really gets within his addiction as detailed in the the book. The storyline just needed a little bit of tweaking to keep the audience completely engrossed for its entirety.

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Although the film is clearly about the relationship between father and son, it does itself a disservice by not establishing the female characters more within the film. It’s so unfortunate that the 2 main women in the film, Nick's mother and stepmother (played respectively by Amy Ryan and Maura Tierney) are shown as just there to support the men, instead of being free-standing characters in their own right.

The relationship between Nick and his mother Vicki (Amy Ryan) is clearly troubled and tumultuous and it would’ve been so interesting to have dived deeper into how that relationship impacted Nick and his drug addiction. Beautiful Boy dances on the edge of completely failing the women in this film altogether as there are glimpses of how strong Nick's mother and stepmother can be, and it’s a shame it was just pushed to the back of the story.

This film had all the ingredients to become something phenomenal. It’s a great piece of cinema, but it falls flat in keeping the audience engaged for the entirety of its 2-hour run time. Beautiful Boy would’ve greatly benefited from being more selective about the details it includes. However, I will in no way be surprised to see Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet nominated in the coming award season because their striking performances alone are enough reason to see this film!


Beautiful Boy is in Australian cinemas October 25th



 
Jess Irvine