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‘Beautiful Boy’ (review)

Produced by Dede Gardner,
Jeremy Kleiner, Brad Pitt

Screenplay by Luke Davies,
Felix Van Groeningen

Based on Tweak: Growing Up on
Methamphetamines
by Nic Sheff and
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey
Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet,
Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Kaitlyn Dever,
Andre Royo,
Timothy Hutton,
LisaGay Hamilton, Stefanie Scott

Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet is predictably excellent as a teenage meth addict in this based-on-a-true-story tale of addiction. Unfortunately, the far-too-lengthy, often tedious film leaves him stranded. In realistically depicting the cycle of abuse (“relapse is part of recovery,” we hear over and over), the film wears out the audience.

The film begins with journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) talking to a drug expert about his son, not as a writer, but as a father.

He’s worried, but calm and that’s the note Carell plays for about three-quarters of the film. We get that he’s trying to keep it together, but that keeps the audience from getting emotionally involved in his struggle to save his son, Nick (Chalamet).

For most of the film, he’s just Steve Carell with a beard. We see him Googling meth addiction and writing about his “beautiful boy,” but that’s academic. We don’t see his anguish until the scene where he breaks down after finally telling Nick over the phone he can’t come home after the last disastrous visit. It’s a powerful moment. I just wish the film hadn’t withheld the father’s despair for so long.

In trying to avoid sensationalizing Nick’s addiction, the film ends up muting the story unnecessarily. Chalamet proves, once again, what a great actor he is, with subtle shadings of each stage of addiction. Maybe the film would have been more engaging if told from Nick’s point of view?

Throughout the film, David is constantly flashing back to earlier, happier scenes of a younger Nick, a choice that adds unnecessary length to the film and that keeps us from connecting with the characters in the present.

The music, which is mostly dad’s favorite band Nirvana at first, also takes several pointed missteps: The overly sentimental “Sunrise, Sunset” song from Fiddler on the Roof is used in complete earnestness at one point. And a scene where Nick overdoses is overlaid with a cringe-worthy angelic chorus.

I couldn’t help thinking of how much better a troubled father-son relationship was depicted in the Oscar-winning (but still underrated) Ordinary People. And just then Timothy Hutton (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as a suicidal teen) shows up as the addiction specialist.

It may well be that Chalamet is nominated again and may even win. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t match his performance.

I think my favorite moment in the whole film belongs to LisaGay Hamilton, who only has one scene as a mother who lost her daughter to drugs: In one heartbroken speech to her support group, she brings a depth of emotion that’s sorely missing from the rest of the movie.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

 

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