By Jack Dignan
Time fades. People grow up. We urge for the past, but the present continues to hit us with everything its got. Life floats through the tranquility of time and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. People are going to be who they are, they’re going to do what they do, perhaps even make life changing mistakes, but there’s always going to be hope. We can’t forget that, and this film doesn’t let us. This is a film about the ones we love, and what to do when we don’t recognise who they are anymore. Addiction is a problem many of us, or many people we know, face on a daily basis. It’s rough and it’s ugly, but it’s real and it’s not going anywhere. But what can we do for those suffering? That’s the central theme of Felix Van Groeningen’s English language debut, Beautiful Boy.
David Sheff (Steve Carell) and Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) were closer than most fathers and sons, but as time slipped by, as did their relationship. Nic, over a number of years, has developed an addiction to methamphetamine. The film takes inspiration from each of their memoirs, which chronicles Nic’s struggle to overcome his addiction from duel perspectives, turning this true story into a heartbreaking, challenging viewing that delves into a family torn apart by addiction. It’s a raw, powerful, emotional and necessary movie that doesn’t always hit the right marks, but when it swings it hits, and boy does it pack a punch.
Beautiful Boy is very much an acting movie. You may have heard the term before, but it means that the film serves as an excellent platform for brilliant performers to give even more brilliant performances, but the film as a whole just isn’t that great. Carell and Chalamet give dedicated, heart-wrenching performances as a father and son who are struggling to move past the addictions both are facing in their lives. Chalamet, the breakthrough star of Call Me By Your Name, proves his performance there wasn’t just a one off. Here, he may even be better. It’s an ugly, unconfined performance that delves into the troubled psyche of a young man who can’t help who he is, and Chalamet’s on his way to a second Oscar nomination.
But you can’t have one without the other, and Carell continues to prove his talents as a dramatic actor. For me, Carell’s character felt far more complex, even if all of these ideas don’t end up being fully fleshed out. He’s a family man and a businessman, yet every spare minute is spent trying to uncover ways he can reconnect with his son and help him overcome his problems, but over the course of the film he’s forced to question if there’s anything he can really do. Expect to see a lot of extended scenes in which Carell Google’s symptoms and types up memos on his computer. However, when he actually gets the chance to do something other than listen to somebody else’s story, there’s heartbreak to be found and brilliance to watch unfold.
Co-writers Luke Davis (Lion) and Groeningen implement a really puzzling narrative structure that left me confused more often than satisfied. It crosscuts and rewinds between timelines without warning or significance. We’re forced through a number of flashbacks, most of which bare little significance to the central plot. There’s no narrative tissue connecting anything that happens. Flashbacks happen within flashbacks, and single shots are returned to after we see an entire scene take place in between. The joint decision of script and editing makes for a really jarring slice of life film that fails to find much needed flow. Nic constantly talks about how his life feels empty and he wishes to fill the void inside of him, but not a single of the many flashbacks decides to contextualize what drove him to become an addict.
Some of the cinematography is really poetic (if not a little too repetitious), and the final few shots, while spoilt in the advertising, are able to say so much with so few words, but the craftsmanship is severely undercut by the jarring narrative structure and overplayed, melodramatic music queues. One track in particular is far too dark and aggressive for the scene it plays over, making it almost laughable in execution. The true story behind Beautiful Boy is an inspirational one, and one that we certainly need to be made aware of, but the filmmakers struggle to find enough material to warrant a two-hour feature film. If it weren’t for Carell and Chalamet’s performances, I genuinely don’t think I would’ve liked this movie.
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