REVIEW: Beautiful Boy

Chalamet shines with an Oscar-worthy performance portraying Nic Sheff, an isolated teen, struggling with drug addiction.

★★★★

Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, chronicles the story of adolescent Nic Sheff’s battle with an addiction to crystal meth and his father’s struggle to help him to rehabilitation.

Known for comic acting in movies such as Anchorman, this is perhaps Carell’s most serious role to date. David Sheff’s concern for his son is expressed from the outset, “there are moments that I look at him, and I wonder who he is”. This is just an echo of his frustration at the disconnection he’s facing with his son. Throughout the film, we see David endlessly researching the effects of drug use as well as a few traumatic scenes in which Carell’s character is visibly broken by the unawareness of Nic’s whereabouts.

This is undoubtedly Steve Carell’s best role since 2015’s Foxcatcher, delivering heartfelt emotion to his onscreen son and wife (played by Maura Tierney). Timothée’s career has advanced even further with this gut-wrenching addition to his filmography, which includes Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

There’s a pivotal scene in which Nic and David meet in a cafe in San Francisco which quickly turns into Chalamet’s character requesting money. David responsibly declines, causing Nic to erupt in a raucous of upset. Of course this is where the performances by both lead actors are most interesting as the tension between the characters builds and the atmosphere is apprehensive.

Director, Felix Van Groeningen, set up two cameras on each character to capture true reactions in real-time. His choice to emphasise the argumentative nature that Nic has towards his father, as well as David’s helpless response, gives the audience an even sharper understanding of their father-son dynamic.

But drama aside, the film is based on a true story - the memoirs of David Sheff, and his son, Nic. This tale of a young man’s nasty addiction is all too real. Groeningen’s film highlights the grim reality of drug addiction as overdose is currently an epidemic in the US. Last year, 72,000 Americans died from drug overdose which shows just how widespread this issue is.

Groeningen doesn’t accentuate the dark side of drugs though, or glorify it whatsoever. Instead, the film revolves around the effect it has on Nic’s family, including his young step-brother and step-sister. “I want them to be proud of me”, he whispers. His determination to change his own life, although perhaps unsuccessfully for the most part, is what makes his flawed character so likeable. However, Chalamet’s natural onscreen charm may also play a part.

Although there’s definitely some issues structurally, Beautiful Boy is a wonderful character study on how little you might know about someone so close and what they’re going through, but also the effects of addiction; whether that’s gambling, alcohol, or drugs.  The performances from both actors make this drama fully engaging and emotional. It’s the two different angles on the same story that set this film apart from other tales of drug addiction because the intrigue is placed upon the dynamic between father and son.

Beautiful Boy was released in the UK on 18th January 2019.

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