Thursday, November 8, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney
DIRECTOR: Felix Van Groeningen
GENRE:  Drama

It's dark, man. I mean literally, due to the deliberate low light camera settings that were employed to create a bleak and brooding mood for Beautiful Boy--based on the best-selling memoirs of David and Nic Sheff.  (The title is a play on the John Lennon song, which gave us the immortal line: Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans). So even in the outdoor shots, there's never a presence of sunlight. A bit heavy-handed to make a point, I thought, but then the story is about the ravages of drug addiction and the devastating toll it can take on a family.

Young Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet) gets addicted to crystal meth, gets clean for a while with the aid of support groups and rehab, then relapses...over and over again. It's a pattern that is slowly driving his dad, David (Steve Carell), up the wall with feelings of helplessness and bewilderment. Because he's tried everything he can think of. Like most addicts, Nic is in denial as to the magnitude of his problem, and David confronts him at every turn, trying to be the loving, concerned parent while dealing to his son a dose of reality. To no avail.

And then the can't heal another person. And just as David throws his hands up and opts for the hands-off approach, he is reminded by the boy's mother and his ex-spouse, Vicki (Amy Ryan), that no, you can't help another person if they're not willing to do it themselves--but you can be there for them when they need you. 

I found Beautiful Boy to be a little slow in the first half, but it builds into something that is so powerful and poignant, I'm declaring the film a MUST SEE! 

Carell and Chalamet give two blockbuster performances. The young Chalamet is already a shining star, especially after his work in Call Me By Your Name (reviewed here), and Carell is making his mark as a serious actor in a way that now outshines his affable comedy persona of the past.     

I'd give Beautiful Boy an "A" rating were it not for the low-level lighting that makes even a couple of the daytime scenes iffy to make out what's going on. But the film's message--that there is light at the end of the tunnel--is a meaningful one for anyone who has been, or is currently a member of a family.

Grade:  B +


The thing that impressed me about Beautiful Boy was the emphasis placed on how addiction is a family disease. How everybody—not just the addict—is sucked into the insanity. The lies, the broken promises, the hopelessness. In the past, films about addiction have mainly focused on the alcoholic (The Lost WeekendLeaving Los Vegas, etc.) or the addict (The Man with the Golden Arm, Requiem for a Dream, etc.). This film, however, pays equal attention to how it can destroy families.

Unfortunately, I knew Beautiful Boy was dragging when I started thinking about scenes I would cut: a miniscule cameo by Timothy Hutton (OrdinaryPeople) as a tell-it-like-it-is addictions doc; the endless father/son flashbacks, reminding us what a beautiful boy Nic was as a child; the incessant relapses.... By the end of the film, I was actually hoping the kid would overdose! (Which is probably the way director Felix van Groeningen wanted the audience to feel.)

My biggest gripe about Beautiful Boy was the score. Loud. Insistent at the wrong moments. The story was powerful enough to carry the film without any music at all. But we've all had some experience with an addicted family member, or friend, or boss. And for that reason alone, it's definitely worth seeing.