Beautiful Boy is a wonderfully acted film showing that Timothée Chalomet’s Oscar-nominated performance from last year was not a fluke.
As wonderfully acted as the Felix van Groeningen film may be, the story of father-and-son, David (Steve Carell) and Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet), is such a sad one. When we first meet David, he’s in some sort of office looking to learn more about crystal meth. This is because his son, Nick, is an alcoholic and narcotics addict. We see how Nic battles for survival through recovery and relapse. This isn’t to say it’s an easy battle because diseases like this are not easy. Perhaps this is why the film introduces David as he seeks to learn more information about his son’s addiction. He takes advantage of a background in journalism but more or less for himself rather than for work.
All of the acting performances aside, Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen’s script could have definitely worked out its storytelling problems. The film flashes back and forth so much that it certainly makes things hard to understand. This is a film that based on two books by David and Nic Scheff so this may explain the chief problematic factor with the narrative. The books tell the same events from differing perspectives. It’s because of this that a traditional narrative is seemingly unlikely. Regardless of the narrative issues, there’s still an important message at hand. Addicts don’t have it easy. Even when it appears that they’ve recovered, they can easily relapse without the right support.
While there are the traces of comedy that we know Second City and The Office alumnus Steve Carell for, he’s very much a father wanting his son to live. We see the worry, anger, and hurt in David’s face all too often in this film. The same also goes for David’s second wife, Karen (Maura Tierney), and his first wife and Nic’s mom, Vicki (Amy Ryan). They aren’t treated as throwaway characters while their emotions show how much they care about Nic. Karen may be Nic’s step-mother but she still cares about his well-being. She also won’t hesitate to protect the younger children, Jasper and Daisy. We also see how David and Vicki are able to co-parent their son following their divorce.
As if the case with other films that contain titles of popular songs, Beautiful Boy is no exception. During a flashback scene, David sings the 1980 John Lennon tune to his son. It’s a powerful moment that only increases once the film adds in Lennon singing. The soundtrack in general is full of rock music.
Felix van Groeningen couldn’t have chosen a better film to serve as his English language debut. Touching on themes of addiction, Beautiful Boy looks at how addiction affects a father and son. Moreover, the film is a reminder that addiction isn’t just limited to people who come from poor backgrounds. Nic Sheff came from an otherwise solid background but still grew addicted as a teenager.
The emotional performances in Beautiful Boy cannot be understated enough because they are what drive this film in spite of a non-linear narrative.
DIRECTOR: Felix van Groeningen
SCREENWRITERS: Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen
CAST: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, and Amy Ryan