Nic Sheff (played by various actors throughout the film, but by Timothée Chalamet in his adult years) is a teen who likes to experiment with drugs. Experimenting turns quickly into full on addiction to hard drugs and Nic’s father David (Steve Carell) rushes to help his son. A long journey into sobriety begins, full of ups and downs. Mainly downs.
Beautiful Boy played at LFF 2018 and it was set to be a real tearjerker. Not only A tearjerker, but THE tearjerker of the festival. It was also promised to be a quality film because anything that Timothée Chalamet does or touches, seems to turn into gold and Steve Carell hasn’t turned in a bad performance for years now. (Although I hear Welcome to Marwen might change this). It’s also based on the true story of father and son Sheff. So Beautiful Boy should be a hit, a touching and honest film filled with great performances.
Should have been.
I’m sorry to say that Beautiful Boy is not any of the things it seems to promise. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s average. So average it’s almost physically painful to watch a film that wastes this much potential. It’s unfocused and never digs deep enough into the themes it so carefully lays out in the first act.
The greatest shame here is that it never gains any perspective. It lacks the point of view of a protagonist. Throughout the film’s 2-hour runtime, it flips between David and Nic’s point of views. It’s at its best when it looks at things from David’s persective as Carell is flawless and bring pathos to his role as the well-meaning father about to lose hope. The film becomes increasingly clichéd and uninspired when looking at addiction through Nic’s eyes. It fails to nail how Nic falls into the hard drugs. The idea must have been to show how easy it is, how quickly and effortlessly one becomes addicted and gets lost in the drugs, but it can never quite convey believably the high Nic experiences or make it so engaging, interesting or crazy that we would believe it.
The performances in the film are largely the reason it’s not a bigger stinker. As mentioned earlier, Carell is phenomenal. His quiet, but desperate performance is perfect. Known for his comedic work, it’s easy to forget just how good a dramatic actor Carell is. He thrives in drama, allowing himself to fully merge with the character he plays. Chalamet, the hottest young actor right now, is equally great as the struggling addict Nic. Chalamet makes Nic young, foolish, stupid, but always relatable. His performance here doesn’t quite reach the honesty he found playing Elio in Call Me By Your Name, but there’s never a feeling he’s pretending, playing dress up. He dives deep into the internal life of his character and portrays the addiction and how it ruins Nic with such ease, it’s hard to imagine he hasn’t done it himself.
Unfortunately Beautiful Boy never becomes the film it could have been. Director Felix Van Groeningen makes too many odd choices, mainly with music, to make his film flow effortlessly. Thankfully his actors shine here and bring some much needed nuance and sensitivity to the film that is otherwise too ordinary for its’ own good.