AMAZON STUDIOS (2019)
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
A John Lennon song loved equally by Macca and Yoko, Bea…wait…
This Beautiful Boy is based on the autobiographical novels by father and son, David and Nic Sheff, and is a frank look at a frank story. Addicted to crystal meth (and Lord knows what else) at a young age, Nic Sheff struggled horrendously with addiction and the movie shows the horrific strain it placed on his family – especially David – and, indeed, his life as the vile drugs began to take their hold on the once-promising young man.
Addiction is a nasty thing, one that many movies before have attempted to tackle. Some succeed with raw, personal takes on the issue, others flail with more one-dimensional, clichéd attempts. Beautiful Boy straddles both of these, managing to lean closer to the ‘better’ side thanks largely to Chalamet’s performance. Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy pulls no punches in dealing with addiction, painting it in all its misery – relapse is part of the rehab, the movie tells us and also shows us (one or two times too many, perhaps) and we see all of the depressing, frustrating, infuriating and, crucially, hopeful moments that occur throughout the ‘journey’. Those hopeful moments prevent the movie from being a total downer, though throughout the emotional investment isn’t entirely there.
Chalamet is very good portraying Nic throughout his meth addiction, depicting every emotion and personality change the wretched stuff conjures. The vulnerability, anxiety, hostility, and fear are all presented well by the rising star, though I found it hard to connect with the character, despite the afflictions. As David, Steve Carell, too, puts in a good shift, getting to flex his dramatic chops once more. The pair really helps to keep the movie engaging, without them or their level of performances, Beautiful Boy would have suffered.
Due to the cycle of addiction, the movie had a repetitive tone that became both frustrating (as it would in reality) but also suffocating, it began to strip away any emotional impact Van Groeningen was aiming for. It was use, suffer, clean, repeat and it went on for too long (as did the movie in general) to the point where I began to feel bad for not feeling bad about the characters predicament. That feeling is also carried within Beautiful Boy, the characters aren’t always admirable in their actions as the pressure takes over. The earnestness the movie employs is effective, however, as from the get-go, Beautiful Boy lays down its message and tone. Also, as a father myself, I found the sadness Carell feels palpable, he just wants to protect his son and the ordeal they all find themselves in is just not what he ever believed could happen.
Also, how great was it to hear Nirvana’s Territorial Pissings blast out through the theatre sound system? Bloody awesomely great, that’s how much.
With such a heavy subject, it would have been easy for Beautiful Boy to be numbingly grey or depressing, however, Van Groeningen manages to inject some hope into the movie to offset the…grey and depressing nature. The two lead performances are excellent and the majority of clichés are swerved, however, the emotional moments became muffled the more they were repeated and Beautiful Boy ultimately suffers because of this.
January 5th 2019