This is a film that had flown under many peoples radars, but was one of my most anticipated films of this year. Most of the reason for that is the leading actors, Steve Carell, who is an incredibly underrated dramatic actor, rightly starting to get recognition now, and Timothee Chalamet, the most promising acting talent in Hollywood, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in Call Me By Your Name, itself a beautiful account of love in unorthodox circumstances.
Then there was the source material, seemingly perfect for the talent involved, the story of a father and son whose relationship is ravaged by the son’s drug addiction, a seemingly transformative role for Chalamet, and an emotionally-driven character for Carell to flex his dramatic muscles, so the opportunity is there for one of the years best films, does it live up to expectations?
David Sheff (Steve Carell) finds himself stuck in a vicious circle of supporting his Son, Nick (Timothee Chalamet) through his addiction troubles, only for him to keep relapsing, as David starts to reach the end of his tether.
Beautiful Boy is not a happy film about overcoming addiction. It is a stark, and at times harrowing, account of how the disease ravages addicts and their families. In some scenes, it builds up the hope for a happy ending, only for it to come crashing down time and time again, in a startling allegory for addiction itself in some ways.
I will apologise right now for this review being short on laughs, but I find it very hard to joke about a film depicting such serious issues in such unflinching, uncompromising ways. In many way, I think that’s what the film deserves the most plaudits for, many films have skirted around the issue of drug addiction, but few have managed to take us so deeply into the heart of the issue so effectively.
It manages really well to balance showing the right amount of respect to the issue without shying away from showing some of its worst sides, in ways that can sometimes make it incredibly hard to watch, it creates a great sense of disappointment when Nick once again reaches for the needle, as we’ve grown throughout the course of the film to see he’s just a scared kid, unsure of the way out of the situation he’s found himself in, which brings me nicely around to the characters and the actors portraying them.
Earlier on in this review, I said that this film presented an opportunity for a transformative role for Chalamet, and he grasped that opportunity with both hands. His presence on screen is that of a shadow of a once bright young man, ravaged by the effects of drugs, his face conveying a million different thoughts and emotions in each scene, as his character withers away in front of us into a shell of a person.
What the performance and the writing make us do is empathise with Nick, and with David, when he disappoints David, he disappoints us, we feel sorrow when he reaches for the needle or the pipe again, and that is such a rare thing for a film to achieve.
Steve Carell is also playing a character going through a whirlwind of emotions, he is perhaps on more of a roller-coaster than Nick, as he tries his best to play the supporting father, but is taken advantage of one to many times, which climaxes towards the end in a heart-wrenching scene, involving a phone call between father and son, one that feels like it pushes the narrative from above average to phenomenally important.
There are complaints I could mention, the film sometimes seems unfocused and slow at times, not giving each event sufficient time to breath, but any complaint I could levy against it is over-shadowed by the films immense importance in highlighting the dark recesses of this deadly disease.
Another area in which the film thrives is its direction, it’s conservative, never reaching a grand scale that could overshadow the narrative, which just lifts the heartbreaking moments even higher, there are some truly incredibly-shot moments between Nick and David that aid in telling the story via the framing of the scene, it is not a film that aims to be the best-looking, as I said, it’s an account of an unsavoury corner of life, one which does not need beauty, but honesty, and that’s what this film is, it’s honest, it could have ended with an uplifting climax of a young man beating addiction, but it knows that the reality is often not like that, and its honesty is what will define it, it’s an astounding achievement in narrative film-making and it has been criminally over-looked by the powers that be in Hollywood, as a film that deserves more nominations but also as a tool of warning, and as a visceral reminder that drug addiction is not beautiful, it’s a struggle for every day.
I’m not one for doing this, but seeing as this subject matter is one that effects to many, I’m listing several phone numbers where help is available for anyone struggling with addiction. It is a disease and there are people out there who can help.
Talk to Frank: 0300 123 6600
The Mix: 0808 808 4994
Community for Recovery: 01785 810762
Help can also be found via the NHS on this site: https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Information-and-support-for-drug-misuse/LocationSearch/339
Finding Recovery: 1-877-958-9735
Boys Town National Hotline: 1 (800) 448-3000
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency: 1 (800) NCA-CALL (622-2255)
Local services can also be found via Google search, don’t suffer in silence and seek help.