Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney
Director: Felix van Groenigen
Running Time: 120 mins
Beautiful Boy is an American film about the true story of father and son, David and Nic Sheff, and the years of difficulty they went through as they battled to cope with drug addiction..
While many films focus on the troubles of drug addiction, few do it in such stark and unrelenting fashion. Beautiful Boy manages to do just that and hit you where it hurts, with a merciless depiction of the real terror of drug addiction, proving the best film to tackle the subject since Darren Aronofsky’s legendary Requiem For A Dream, all the while crafting an emotionally tender and intimate story about the relationship between a father and son, complete with excellent performances and elegant directing throughout.
And it’s that second point I’d like to start with, because while the heavy-going and devastating nature of the story at hand is ultimately the most memorable element of Beautiful Boy, it’s the human emotion that has a subtle yet integral impact on the film as a whole, taking a step back from being a portrait of pure misery, and allowing you to think about how serious drug addiction takes its toll on such a wide range of people.
In that, the film is in fact less about the son, Nic Cheff, played by Timothée Chalamet, and more about the father’s response to his son’s drug addiction, something that’s borne out in stunning fashion from Steve Carell, who gives a fantastic performance throughout as David Sheff.
On the one hand, the film paints a delicate portrait of a father-son relationship going through its most difficult period, but on the other, it’s the position that David finds himself as he tries desperately to support his son in any way possible, despite coming up against wall after wall on the long road to seeing a recovery, to the point where it really feels like he can do no more.
Carell’s performance really makes this part of the character clear as day, because rather than a simple bit of parental guidance as is more commonplace, David Sheff comes up against something that he’s never experienced before, leading him to question everything he thought about his son, himself, and even the way that he went about bringing up his son, a key theme that provokes some stunning emotion throughout, and develops to an incredible and almost unbelievable extent toward the end.
Of course, this is a true story, and that’s part of what makes it such a devastating watch. Its intimate emotion is powerful and thought-provoking throughout, but it’s difficult to avoid the terrifyingly frank portrayal of how drugs can wreck the life of not just one person, but an entire family, and as the film goes on, it becomes more and more apparent just how devastating this period was in reality for the Sheff family, as well as how sadly possible it is to happen to anyone else.
This isn’t some melodramatic tragedy, but a film that combines genuine human emotion with a clear and necessarily frank portrayal of a horrifying reality, in a way that few films are willing to, and that’s something that makes it both a moving and incredibly heavy-going watch, but one that delivers a message that certainly has to be heard.
Tying that intimate emotion and devastating social drama together is some strong direction from Felix van Groenigen, whose elegant style gives Beautiful Boy a very pensive atmosphere, allowing you to put yourself in the shoes of the people on screen and understand what an experience of this sort is really like, further deepening your intrigue and connection with the story at hand.
The story unfolds in unique fashion, with scene after scene overlapping with one another as the characters try to grapple with an ever-worsening situation, but it adds to that dramatic elegance and immersion. Van Groenigen’s style takes a little getting used to, it has to be said, and the way he portrays memories on screen in particular proves a little jarring and confusing, but as a clear narrative drama, he gets the atmosphere spot on, and makes for an enthralling watch.
Overall, there’s no getting away from the fact that Beautiful Boy isn’t an easy watch. With a truly unrelenting portrayal of the devastating and wide-ranging effects of drug addiction, it’s a film that will hit you hard and even induce a few tears at times, but it’s furthered by stunning and intimate human emotion that centres on the struggles of a father to keep his son going strong, all the while questioning everything that has come before. With fantastic performances and great directing as well, Beautiful Boy makes for a deeply striking watch from beginning to end, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9.