Film Review: Beautiful Boy

Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy is a saccharine drama which is redeemed by some strong performances from its cast.

Writer David Sheff is desperate to help his eldest son Nic, who is addicted to crystal meth. As Nick struggles with his addiction, David tries to help his son and hold his family together…

Based on the books by David Sheff and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy is a story about a father and a son. Although it focuses on Nick’s addiction, the crux of the film is this relationship. The story is told in a fragmented way, jumping back and forth from present day to childhood, before moving forward. In this way, Beautiful Boy develops the relationship between father and son, and helps to inform of their later motivations. As Nic’s addiction gets worse, it is interesting to see how the characters react. The narrative is winding; there are highs and lows throughout.

The fundamental problem with Beautiful Boy is that it seems to desperate to make the audience emote. The score is overdone, particularly in the climactic scene, to pull on the heartstrings. The callbacks to earlier moments feel a little contrived, and the contents of Nic’s journal seem farcical. The problem of drug addiction is sad and frustrating, yet writer-director Van Groeningen and co-writer Luke Davies prefer the sledgehammer to the subtle approach. 

The film works best when it is the leads are allowed to do their thing quietly. The story is engaging, and provides enough meat for its leads. Timothée Chalamet is great in the film, and has great chemistry with Steve Carrell. Their changing relationship is well written, and it is the quieter moments which have the most impact. Maura Tierney provides good support as Karen; she is convincing through a range of emotions.

Beautiful Boy exhibits the heartbreak of addiction; the family’s comfort underline how it could happen to anyone regardless of circumstance. The downside of the film is that it tries to hard to be a tearjerker.

Beautiful Boy is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

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