By Nadira Begum
Entering the cinema, I was ready to watch what I thought would be a formulaic tale of breakdown and recovery, deftly made as Oscar bait and manufactured to pull at the heartstrings of the masses. This isn’t that kind of film.
Whilst undoubtedly moving and at times tremendously heart-breaking, Beautiful Boy offers an unflinching insight into the relationship between a father and son as they learn to cope with the latter’s addiction to crystal meth. Based on the matching memoirs written by David Sheff (titled Beautiful Boy) and his son Nic (titled Tweak), Beautiful Boy presents an often overlooked truth about addiction – that it can affect anyone, regardless of their social standing.
Eschewing traditional Hollywood tales of a linear journey from addiction to recovery, Felix van Groeningen, the Belgian director best known for his 2016 drama Belgica, works to convey just how difficult this journey can be. With multiple relapses and some unforgiving scenes of Nic (Timothée Chalamet) overdosing in public bathrooms cut between flashbacks to a seemingly idyllic childhood, Beautiful Boy does not shy away from the more difficult aspects of its subject matter.
“I don’t feel like I have a disease, this isn’t like cancer. This is my choice. I put myself here.” Uttered by Nic as he cries down the phone to his sponsor on the brink of yet another relapse, this line highlights the difficult truth that lies at the heart of public discussion about addiction: the reality that it is, in fact, a disease.
Steve Carell effortlessly portrays the frustration of a loving father riddled with guilt and struggling to understand where he went wrong. “There are moments that I look at him, this kid that I raised, who I thought I knew inside and out, and I wonder who he is,” he admits in the opening scene. Chalamet complements Carell’s tear-jerking performance with a stellar performance of his own, and although this is arguably Carell’s best work since Foxcatcher, Chalamet delivers a performance so raw and uninhibited that one can’t help but wonder whether his Oscar nomination got lost in the post.
Beautiful Boy isn’t a rosy Hollywood tale of a lost boy who eventually finds his way again. The film doesn’t want to present you with a dark story that ultimately wraps itself up in a happy conclusion. Instead, it forces its audience to look more closely at the intricacies of addiction and acknowledge it as the truly universal disease that it is. Sometimes predictable, though never judgemental, Beautiful Boy is a much-needed siren blaring out in the midst of a modern day opioid epidemic.