Beautiful Boy features rich performances, troubling story
Nowadays, the headlines are rife with the alarming consequences of the opioid epidemic. But, of course, this is by no means the first (or likely last) drug addiction crisis modern society has faced. Recent drugs of choice include crystal meth, crack cocaine and heroin. Go further back in our human history and you will encounter the horrors of opium, morphine and laudanum. Addiction is nothing new, but the statistics fail to capture the tragedy that drug addiction wreaks on the individuals and families involved.
Beautiful Boy, a film based on the real-life experience of David and Nic Sheff (and their parallel books on the subject), makes the noble effort to put this national crisis into human terms. The movie distills the essence of one family’s encounter with addiction in all of its searing and sometimes contradictory emotions: despair, optimism, anger, love, denial, perseverance, surrender and grief.
Informed by sensitive, resonant performances by Steve Carell and Timotheé Chalamet (as well as Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan) and thoughtfully directed by Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy is a cinematic experience that I will not soon forget, but the film also transcends this individual story to encourage a greater dialogue about an issue facing all of us.
Based on David Sheff’s book of the same name and his son Nic’s book Tweak, the movie depicts a supportive, loving family as they slowly begin to realize that their teenage son has become addicted to a variety of recreational drugs. Beautiful Boy takes the viewer slowly, excruciatingly through the relentless patterns of rehab and detox as all of the family attempts to cope with the toll of this disease. As the film concludes, one realizes that while there may be one happy ending here, recovery for most addict families, even the Sheffs, is a continuing struggle. I found myself thinking how fortunate, and incredibly lucky, I am that this story was not more familiar to me personally.
Incidentally, the fact that the Sheff family had the resources needed to get Nic into treatment, and yet to no permanent recovery, reinforces two powerful points: 1) not every addict has such luxury to get much-needed help, and 2) addiction is a disease that is impervious to affluence, education, age, geography or class.
Steve Carell, who is more familiar to movie audiences as a comedic actor, brings subtle depth and feeling to his role as father David. And Chalamet, who broke through with his Oscar-nominated performance in Call me By Your Name last year, demonstrates that he can hold his own. Tierney, as David’s current wife, and Amy Ryan, as his ex, turn in quiet but impactful performances. A special shout-out to LisaGay Hamilton for her brief but memorable speech as a support-group mother dealing with the pain and grief of her family’s loss.
There is nothing astonishing in the craft of the direction or the screenwriting, except that both wisely keep the human drama at the forefront. Similarly, the movie’s set/art direction and music are unobtrusive.
Beautiful Boy is one of those occasional movies that may be less important as a film than for what it could represent in making this issue worthy of more consideration and conversation. It takes a headline and makes it real and human. For that, I am grateful.
Coming also in November: Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) stars as rock star Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Nov. 2; The Girl in the Spider’s Web reboots the Swedish thriller series with Claire Foy in the lead, Nov. 9; the latest story from the Potterverse, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Nov. 16; Creed II with Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone, Nov. 21; and If Beale Street Could Talk, a Harlem-set family drama from director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Nov. 30.