The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that over 21 million Americans aged 12 and older have struggled with illegal substance abuse. The CDC reported in 2017 that nearly 115 deaths occur every day in the U.S. as a result of opioid overdoses. At these rates, the drug use in America has reached epidemic levels. One might assume that drug addiction plagues only the periphery of society — the isolated and the forlorn. Yet, addiction is a disease and it can affect anyone. Therefore, now more than ever, the story of David and Nic Sheff is a crucial tale to tell.
“Beautiful Boy” tells the story of Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”), a teen addicted to crystal meth, and his father David (Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes”), who is desperate to help his son on the road to recovery. The film, based off of David and Nic’s respective memoirs “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” and “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” was directed and written by Felix van Groeningen (“Belgica”) alongside Luke Davies (“Lion”).
“Beautiful Boy” acts as a conversation between father and son, offering both perspectives of the memoirs on which it is based. While the film attempts to create a conversation between father and son, sponsor and addict, it sometimes falls short, making it feel more like a monologue than a dialogue. But as the title suggests, the film focuses primarily on David’s struggle in trying to help his son, rather than Nic’s journey. The film employs a series of stunning emotional flashbacks, offering a stark contrast between Nic’s innocent childhood and the dark path towards addiction. The flashbacks offer context, allowing the audience to relish the sweet and forgotten memories of Nic’s idyllic childhood. Therein lies the essence of the film, an honest and emotionally provocative portrait of addiction. The storyline of “Beautiful Boy” is a relatable one, which makes the film all the more poignant. Anyone who knows someone who has struggled with addiction knows this story and the weight and pain that it carries.
The cyclical narrative of “Beautiful Boy” acts like a spiral of bad decisions, creating a whirlpool of sobriety and relapse. Nic recovers only to get back on the wagon, and David becomes hopeful only to be crushed by another overdose or disappearance. The repetition is reminiscent of a drug addict’s journey towards recovery, a recurring and constant struggle between vice and vigor. A nuanced and emotional performance from the always brilliant Chalamet elevates the story to new heights. At some moments, Chalamet’s Nic is a shell of himself and at others he is a cheeky teen who doodles in his notebook and listens to Nirvana. The ups and downs of Nic’s recovery are emphasized by Chalamet’s performance, making us feel every seductive rush of dopamine and every crash towards the depths of the excruciating despair of withdrawal. In other words, Chalamet is nothing short of beautiful in another knockout, Oscar-worthy performance from the boy wonder.
Likewise, Carell’s David is a father desperate to save his son from himself. His performance is filled with the pain and mourning of the father of an addict, feeling powerless in assisting his son in the fight he must endure. The performances by Chalamet and Carell are the bread and butter of “Beautiful Boy,” serving tension, conflict and payoff in their emotionally stunning portrayal of father and son. Still, the film leaves something to be desired in terms of explanation, often opting for vagueness and leaving too much unsaid.
The conclusion of the Sheffs’ story is somewhat unsatisfying, in the sense that it ends where it begins, facing the reality of drug addiction. After all, the journey towards recovery is one that extends past years of sobriety: It is an everyday struggle for recovering addicts. Overall, “Beautiful Boy” is an emotional rollercoaster, making every feeling be felt with the utmost intensity. The real star of the film, however, is Chalamet as the titular boy beauty, making “Beautiful Boy” nothing short of simply beautiful.