TIFF: ‘Beautiful Boy’

Other than mental health, there’s no lesser understood disease than addiction, whether to alcohol, crack, cocaine, or meth. At the center of director Felix Van Groeningen‘s Beautiful Boy is meth.

The film is based upon David Sheff’s book about his son’s struggles with addiction. Sheff is played by Steve Carell, while his son, Nic, is portrayed by Timothée Chalamet. Beautiful Boy spends much of its steam flashbacking a year prior to Sheff beginning his research into meth. This overarching flashback is interwoven with smaller ones dating to when Nic was a boy.

The strength of the narrative is partly its authenticity, as Nic’s addiction is seen through his father’s eyes. However, that’s also the crippling weakness of Beautiful Boy. Because the film can only follow the steady and familiar beats of every addiction drama if done from an outsider’s voice. The narrative never quite takes time to understand Nic, to see his addiction from his perspective. Instead, it attempts to prescribe reasons why he’s helpless and use addict’s logic to give Nic motivation. The result, while well meaning, is as muddy as track marks.

Any viability for the film’s recovery rests in its esteemed cast. Maura Tierney, playing Sheff’s current wife, is understated and does the best with what’s a shallow part for her. Rather, it’s Chalamet and Carrell who take center stage. Carrell’s performance as this struggling dad is workmanlike, and his best moments comes when he doesn’t say a word. Meanwhile, Chalamet cements his status as the next big leading man. There is a way about him in front of the camera. He knows how to incite the camera into grieving with him and that alone makes Beautiful Boy at least somewhat worthwhile.

 An official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF): 2018.

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