This is Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen’s debut English language film, based on the memoirs ‘Beautiful Boy’ and ‘Tweak’ by father David Sheff (played by Steve Carrell) and son Nic Sheff (played by Timothée Chalamet) respectively. It is a true story based on Nic’s compulsive addiction to a myriad of drugs, and a father’s desperate attempts to save his son. I knew going into this that it was going to be a sad movie, but I did not realise just how heartbreaking it would be. Watching the teenage Nic repeatedly abuse his body, sniffing, taking, and injecting substances, makes for very difficult and upsetting viewing.
The film follows Nic’s repetitive spirals into self-destruction, with flashbacks of his childhood interspersed throughout, highlighting David’s devastation at the gradual loss of his son to addiction. It is these flashbacks that give the film a nostalgic quality, lending a soft haze to the film’s aesthetic. It makes you wish, alongside David, that things could go back to the way they were before Nic ‘grew up’ and discovered drugs. Steve Carrell brings such an emotional gravitas and expressiveness to his role, portraying frustration and anger and fear. He demonstrates that it is not only the addict who struggles; Nic’s addiction affects his divorced parents, his step-mother, and his younger half-siblings.
Timothée Chalamet is incredible in this film, conveying a childlike naivety while also showing the desperation of an addict’s need for the next fix. There is a restlessness, an anxious quality to the movements of his body that highlights and draws attention to his addiction, outside of overtly viewing him use drugs. It is great that Chalamet’s performance is being recognised by many film critics, but unfortunately, he didn’t manage to get an Oscar nomination this year.
Ultimately, this is a film that depicts the, at times, difficult relationship between a father and son, capturing the ups and downs of fatherhood and the crippling effects of drug abuse on that relationship. It is a very honest and occasionally uncomfortable story of addiction; it does not shy away from the issue, it does not glamorise it or gloss over it. It shows David Sheff cry because he cannot help his son any longer and needs to shut him out of his life in order to protect his younger children from their brother’s harmful presence. It shows Nic cry because he is frustrated at his own inability to control his addiction, and his shame at the hurt he had caused his family. ‘Beautiful Boy’ is a thought-provoking and poignant piece of cinema; and it is the very last shot of the film that really hits hard, causing a flood of tears to come over you. Minutes into the rolling of the end credits you will still find yourself trying to hold in the sobs. Post film: The audience reads that Nic Sheff is now nine years sober, which adds a hopeful note over the sadness of his, and his family’s, story.
By Shauna Fox – Film Writer