Movie Review – Beautiful Boy (2018)
Timothée Chalamet really burst onto the scene last year in Lady Bird and he even scored an Academy Award nomination for his role in Call Me By Your Name. However, I wanted to talk about a Chalamet film that came out this year, one that has been completely overlooked. Yet, it feels of a piece to this one than anything else.
This summer Chalament’s film, Hot Summer Nights, got a very limited release. In the film, Chalamet played a drug dealer in Cape Cod. Here, he plays a drug addict in northern California. His character in Hot Summer Nights never uses any drugs and conversely his character here never sells. With this film, Chalamet portrays both sides of the same coin. Of those two sides, I would say this one is the better half. That being said, this film really provides the audience with nothing that spectacular. In terms of movies about drug addiction, especially drug addiction with young people, there’s nothing here that we didn’t get from The Basketball Diaries (1995) or Trainspotting (1996).
I suppose what sets this film apart from those other ones is that despite the addicted person being Chalamet’s Nic Sheff, the majority of the film is told from the perspective of Nic’s father, David Sheff, played by Steve Carell (The Big Short and The 40-Year-Old Virgin). This makes sense given that the film is an adaptation of David Sheff’s memoir. Sheff is a journalist who has written for The New York Times and Rolling Stone. His memoir focuses on what he experienced during the worst of his son’s addiction, as well as his attempts to help his son. As such, the adaptation by director and co-writer Felix Van Groeningen is perfectly fine. It feels faithful and authentic. Carell has given better performances but his David is stalwart, if frustrated at the disillusionment he faces upon discovering the little boy he raised is no longer the boy or rather young man he has in front of him.
However, what’s strange is that David Sheff’s memoir isn’t the only memoir at play here. In 2008, when David Sheff’s memoir was published, the memoir of his son, Nic Sheff, was also published. In the credits of this film, it’s revealed that the film is actually an adaptation of both memoirs. Both were the principal source material. However, if the credits hadn’t revealed that fact, it would seem unlikely. As mentioned, the film is mostly told from David’s perspective. The few scenes that have Nic by himself don’t illuminate anything that couldn’t have been reasoned by anyone on the outside looking in. The few scenes that are Nic by himself don’t provide any substantive insight that again anyone couldn’t have guessed.
It’s not even revealed how Nic started using drugs or what drew him to it. Did he seek it out himself? Was it a friend who introduced him? I suppose that those involved would argue that it doesn’t matter. How the addiction starts doesn’t matter. For the purposes of this film, it’s all about the seemingly endless cycle of recovery and relapse and how do people on both ends of it break the cycle. Rightly, the film should be in David’s point-of-view because often it’s incumbent upon the parent or the non-addicted person who is related to be the one to break the cycle. Often, it requires sacrifice and emotional hardship and that’s what Groeningen’s film builds over the course of its potentially too long run-time. However, how the addiction starts is important.
Given the opioid epidemic that has recently been recognized on a national level, this film is certainly timely. There is a statistic, which this film cites in the end credits that drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50 with two-thirds of those deaths from opioids. Locally, people on the Delmarva peninsula and on the east coast have probably heard of the Purple Project, created by Chris Herren, to stand against substance abuse. This film is perfectly placed with the Purple Project and similar initiatives and could inspire families to stay strong even through those tough cycles.
Rated R for drug content throughout, language and brief sexual material.
Running Time: 2 hrs.