Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios / Big Indie Pictures / Plan B Entertainment
Timothée Chalamet portrays a young man addicted to drugs in the true story “Beautiful Boy.”
All films starring Timothée Chalamet could accurately be called “Beautiful Boy” — what a face that kid has on him — but so far there is only one, a heartbreaking addiction drama co-starring Steve Carell as his father. Chalamet plays Nic, a brilliant, sensitive teenager who dives headlong into a terrible meth habit. Both men portray, above all, the love between a father and son, and bring to life the terrible pain and disappointment that come from Nic’s upended life due to drugs.
As such, “Beautiful Boy” is a tough film to watch. Anyone who has gone through anything like this with a family member might find it especially difficult, or maybe the accuracy of the ongoing frustrations and helplessness will be of comfort. The film feels real because it is based on a real story, a memoir by the father and a memoir by the son. David Shef (Steve Carell) is a writer, and both memoirs were New York Times bestsellers.
From their beautiful Northern California home to the ongoing love and pride poured onto the precocious and intelligent (and beautiful) Nic, it is established that this is a cherished young man. His father, David, is divorced from Nic’s mother (Amy Ryan) and has two little kids with second wife Karen (Maura Tierney), and intercut flashbacks show nothing but love between these people. Indeed, I’m not sure that the story wasn’t hurt a bit by the fact that the real dad wrote the book; perhaps there is an element of defensiveness here, convincing the audience that he did everything he could for his son.
At any rate, we are convinced that he did everything he could; from the first time they find out Nic is using crystal meth, they rush him into treatment. He does so well that, hoping against hope, the family tries to get back to normal and let him go to college. They want so badly to go back to their old hopes and dreams for him.
What makes it possible to watch his predictable relapses is Chalamet himself; the audience takes the perspective of the parents, and it is unbearably frustrating to watch him head back to drugs over and over again. Eventually, the film allows Nic to be a jerk. Initially, much like his adoring parents, we want to indulge him because he’s just so smart and charming. David, in his despair, even tries meth himself because he desperately needs an explanation for why his son puts this substance above everything else.
The arc of the story becomes somewhat predictable, but the scenes within that arc are memorable, and the performances are amazing. Carell really succeeds as a serious or a comic actor, and both of his wives temper his devotion to Nic nicely. The story actually would have benefitted from more of those women. Again, this could be a symptom of the source material. As a memoir of the dad, we are bound to get lots of the dad.
As powerful as the characters were, I almost felt the end of the film, in which the viewer is given a few statistics about addiction and a terribly trite sentence about help available for those who seek it, came close to ruining the entire thing for me. Suddenly, the story felt like an after-school special, and an artistic film became a tasteful instructional video for parents of drug addicts. I could be overreacting to this single frame of text, but it collapsed the dramatic effect for me.
“Beautiful Boy” worked best when I didn’t know the story behind it, when the reality created by these great actors was the only one on display. Technically, any and all films are emotionally manipulative, right? But when the forces behind this story showed their hand, it hurt the effect. Nevertheless, Timothée Chalamet’s bone structure can carry most any movie, and he and Steve Carell created some heartbreaking moments together.
“Beautiful Boy” is currently available to rent.
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