Beautiful Boy

beautiful_boySTARS2.5There’s are things to admire in Beautiful Boy, Felix Van Groeningen’s (The Broken Circle Breakdown) English language debut.  At the top of the list is Timothée Chalamet’s performance.  He’s nuanced, affecting and natural.  He reaffirms that his amazing turn in Call Me by Your Name wasn’t some fluke. The rising star is someone to watch.  But that is not the attitude I ultimately had while exiting the theater.  There’s an overwhelming feeling of “But why?”  That could be the point. People can turn to drugs even when everything in their life is perfectly peachy. The take may be mildly unique.  It still doesn’t form the basis of a compelling drama

Beautiful Boy is based a true story.  In fact, the saga actually manages to incorporate two memoirs into its tale: Beautiful Boy, an account penned by father David Sheff (Steve Carrel) and Tweak, the recollection of son Nic Sheff embodied here by the aforementioned Timothée Chalamet.  Luke Davies and Van Groeningen adapted both works into one screenplay.  The narrative has this repetitive cycle that begins with a drug-induced ordeal followed by a period of sobriety and then relapse.  Nic comes from an affluent family.  They live in San Francisco.  He’s loved by his Dad who has remarried. His wife Karen (Nic’s stepmother) is cautiously concerned, but compassionate.  Nic’s mother and David’s ex-wife Vicki (Amy Ryan), lives in Los Angeles.  David and Vicki argue long distance over the phone about what is to be done.  Vicki does what she can and provides tangible support when things go wrong.  Nic is surrounded by a lot of loving, supportive people.

There’s a diaphanous glaze of good intentions that infuse the drama.  Steve Carrel is the stereotypical epitome of a wealthy white parent that disciplines by empathetically expressing his disappointment.  It’s not depicted in the film but he seems like one of those parents who punished his toddler by giving them a “timeout”.  His casual parenting style is so laissez-faire that I found it hard to sympathize with him.  At one point Nic feels comfortable enough to offer his father a joint and suggest they smoke it together.  I can honestly say this certainly wasn’t the experience I had growing up.  I think one’s acceptance of the kind of father Steve Carell represents, will cut across a cultural divide.  David expresses frustration with his son’s behavior but without a solution or a means to success.  He’s clearly defeated, but he is so depressingly impotent that he sounds whiny.  This is going to sound glib, but it’s hard for me not to go psychology 101 and prescribe a little tough love in this scenario.  Steve Carell’s character is supremely frustrating.

There’s a lot of good about Beautiful Boy. Its heart is in the right place.  Nic, as portrayed by Timothée Chalamet, seems like a genuine person.  He conveys the heady effect that drugs provide for him.  We get why he keeps relapsing.  That’s not easy to do when every advantage in life has been handed to you on a silver platter.  We understand the intoxicating stranglehold that drugs have on him.  Marijuana leads to cocaine then ecstasy and eventually, crystal meth.  His simple desire to experience that euphoric feeling is a never-ending cycle that leads to a greater high.  Unfortunately, though, we are presented with a repetitive narrative without a compelling point.  There is no satisfying resolution.  Nic fails, says he’s sorry and then he is forgiven.  This occurs several times during the story.  Over and over again.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of “Lather, rinse, repeat.”

10-25-18

10 Responses to “Beautiful Boy”

  1. Darn it. This looked really quite special. Maybe Timothee Chalamet makes it worth the while.

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    • He’s very good although I still wouldn’t give the film a recommendation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Saw this the other night, and I was left devastated. Though I will agree with you — I left asking myself why? Why did this kid do this to himself, to his loving family? I cite an addictive personality, and while that may make feeling for a kid who has everything in front of him more of a challenge I felt it was enough to be disturbed by how helpless he was to stop using. This is a, for the lack of a better term, privileged story. That he survived his relapses is really remarkable. And hardly everyone’s story.

        I think more than anything what Beautiful Boy does is objectively show you what crystal meth does. The facts are ugly.

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      • Most definitely. I understand how an entitled person can succumb to drug addiction. In some ways, perhaps they’re more likely to fall victim because they actually have the money to support such a habit. I get that.

        What I didn’t warm up to was the father‘s reaction to his son’s drug addiction. The way it’s presented here, I felt like dad enabled his son’s behavior. My sympathy decreased.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, crap. Your review isn’t the first like this that I’ve read. It’s a shame, bc the trailer had me hooked…

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  3. I agree, tough love was definitely needed. Can’t be a friend first, dad second. Disappointing, wanted to love this. 3stars

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  4. A little underwhelming for what I was hoping for.

    I think it finds itself in the second half, but the storytelling is kind of weak, and Carell’s performance is good, not great, from what we’ve seen from him of late. Whether it is just him slightly being out of his element, or being paired with old Office mate Holly Flax—err, Amy Ryan, he’s got a smidge of Michael Scott in some of this performance.

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