An engrossing true drama and character study. Beautiful Boy unflinchingly reveals the ugly impact of drug abuse on families and has some stellar performances from its cast.
The film follows the life story of Nic Sheff a young man who succumbs to drug and alcohol addiction. As Nic battles his demons, his family tirelessly tries to help him overcome his addiction and repeated relapses. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic, with Steve Carrell supporting him as his father David. Together they combine to tell the story through their eyes as the film seamlessly covers years of Nic’s battles.
While difficult to watch, Beautiful Boy is incredibly engrossing to watch. Especially through the film’s examination of the different ways Nic’s addiction impacts those around him. The story unflinchingly portrays his tendencies to become a pathological liar; a thief; a terrified youth and a helpless emotional victim. All of which I had no doubt that such situations would be all too familiar for those who have unfortunately experienced the same problems with loved ones or friends. I found it quite the brutal and honest portrayal of a person struggling with a terrible issue, but I was glad that the film didn’t shy away from showing such harrowing situations.
The film is also led by an extremely talented cast who collectively make it quite the performance driven piece.
Steve Carrel is starting to prove himself capable of more dramatic roles in recent years and I was pleasantly surprised that his performance as David didn’t disappoint. chooses to take on a quiet desperation in David’s characterisation rather than the aggressive, shouting father figures that are often the standard character approach to similar roles. This approach grounded the character’s performance and made him feel more real to me.
Timothée Chalamet is equally brilliant. His ability to flick between his raging mood swings and consistently casually lying to his family without is both impressive and horrifically sad to watch. I also enjoyed his neurotic take on Nic that further alienates him from societal norms; making it harder for him to come back from his drug addiction.
Maura Tierney also does a great job as Nic’s stepmom. She captures the awkward combination of sympathy and detachment felt for Nic being her character is a person not directly related to him. Her love for Nic is evident but the need to protect her own children from the realities of the world that they’re currently too young to understand is also a driving factor that sees her take a much stronger approach to Nic. One of her best moments is a scene where she’s chasing Nic in a mad car chase that’s both incredibly tense and sad to watch. A true testament of the despair her character feels.
Interestingly, director Felix van Groeningen brings a hallucinogenic feel to the film often shifts the timeline the story operates within. This creates a feeling of confusion as to how much time passes, cleverly symbolizing the same feeling Nic experiences under the influence. There are times when it’s hard to keep track of how much time has passed in the story as the characters don’t seem to get older but it’s a memorable film that keeps you thinking for days long after you’ve seen it.
Finally, the soundtrack adds electric song choices. While they may not fit the emotion trying to be captured, they are suited to the moment and feel like intimate snapshots of moments that revolve around a song. It’s an interesting technique but in a way feels natural and adds to the realism of the entire film.
Ultimately Beautiful Boy is a harrowing but engrossing character study. Even though the film does feel long, it’s well balanced and brutally honest portrayals of the story’s issues more than makeup for it. This one film that might be difficult to watch but it’s worth taking the time to do so. See it.