Movie review: Beautiful Boy

A cautionary anti-drug tale offers little insight into a real problem

Beautiful Boy
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen
With Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

A young middle-class college-bound young man has every advantage, but becomes a drug addict instead in the rather preachy true-life social drama Beautiful Boy.

Despite the subject matter, everything in the film is spotlessly clean. Even when the young man, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet), descends into living on the streets, he manages to stay neat, with only a few hairs out of place to show his distress.

One of the film’s most annoying aspects is its confusion about its subject matter. Several times Nic is described as being hooked on methamphetamine, a stimulant, but when he shoots up he falls asleep. The film does mention he is on multiple drugs, but there is a disconnect between the dialogue emphasizing one drug and the imagery focusing on another.

The film is more concerned with how Nic’s addiction impacts on others, such as his father, David Sheff (Steve Carell) than with Nic’s life, as Nic often takes a back seat to his father’s own self-pity. On top of that, the structure of the film is to flip back and forth in time to show key moments in Nic’s early family years that supposed to give insight into why he threw away all his advantages to chase after a mixed bag of drugs instead. The villain is not the stuck-up and arrogant Nic’s poor choices, but his parents’ divorce.
This creates a rather undercooked manipulative stew of supposedly emotional scenes that in the end don’t have nearly as much impact as intended.

The film starts with Nic, still in high school, vanishing for several days and returning with a slightly damaged car. Nic admits to a tiny bit of casual drug use, and his father responds by shuffling him off rapidly into rehab. This sets off a cycle of Nic being in and out of rehab, and constantly lying to and manipulating those around him. From the start, it should be clear to viewers that almost everything Nic says is a lie aimed at minimizing his guilt and maximizing his access to drugs.

Even when he is clean for a while, though, Nic is not a very sympathetic character. Actor Timothée Chalamet, best known for the lead in the LGBT romance Call Me By My Name, played a similarly arrogant and unlikable character in the coming of age drama Lady Bird. Chalamet, perhaps let down by the simplistic script, doesn’t really capture the real turmoils of descending from attending a top university to living on the streets and stealing for drug money. He comes off mostly as self-centered narcissict who does not get better, but just better at manipulating people.

The audience learns more about Nic’s downward spiral from his father finding and reading his sketch books than from Nic himself. The progression of ink sketches are like a graphic novel of Nic’s journey from one drug to another and from coherent thoughts into a confused and paranoid haze. These journals would have provided a better narrative structure for the disjointed film.

As it is, the closest thing to a binding structure in the film is that Nic and his father, from childhood up until Nic goes to college, end their conversations by both saying the word “everything.” Near the end of the film there is a scene to show how that tradition originated as if it explains something crucial. It doesn’t.

Steve Carell is known for his comic performances but has a fairly straight role this time. In a few scenes, he can be seen losing his temper or reacting sharply, especially when interacting with his ex-wife, Vicki (Amy Ryan) on the phone. Discussions of Nic’s drug addiction quickly turn into finger-pointing over who was the bad parent.

Carell struggles a bit with the scenes where he has to show the father’s dark side, as it seems to run against his nature. He is a bit better when he tries to be concerned over his son.

This is not Carell’s first straight dramatic role as a troubled father. He was much better in the overlooked domestic military drama Last Flag Flying from director Richard Linklater.

If the film feels like a puzzle that someone gave up on completing because some pieces were missing, that reportedly is the case. Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen had the film completely re-edited several times before calling in another editor he had worked with previously to try to assemble the various flashbacks and later scenes into something coherent.

The result feels like a glorified TV movie on one of those channels that specialize in overblown teen tragedies and cautionary tales.

The film is based on two books, one by the real father and one by the real son. The title refers to a John Lennon song.

Video on YouTube

Related articles

Facebook comments

The James Joyce Irish Pub

Best Irish Pub in Prague

Pražské Benátky

Enjoy Prague from a different view

Ristorante Casa de Carli

Authentic Italian cuisine in Prague

Legans Law Office s.r.o.

We help you to master Czech bureaucracy.

Ing. Kristina Krčmářová -...

Certified Czech tax advisor with fluency in English.

Sauna Central - RELAXATION...

Sauna in the city centre of Prague.

Green Fox Academy

Become a software developer in Prague

Prague’s # 1 source for Czech news in English…

Digital lifestyle magazine platform promoting life in Prague.