Based on two memoirs; one from a father and the other from the son, this biographical film focuses on the uncertainty and pain of raising a child who has become severely dependent on drugs. If you consider the powerful content you’ll quickly realise how lacking ‘Beautiful Boy’ is, in terms of emotional heft.
All through their lives, David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) have had a great father-son bond but with Nic now in his teens and putting off college, David’s worst fears are realised when he comes to understand Nic is taking a cocktail of different drugs to get through life and has become increasingly addicted to crystal meth. David hopes to learn more about the effects of meth and regain his son’s affections but he could end up losing Nic completely.
Felix Van Groeningen, in his first English feature as director, manages to capture some better moments in an otherwise disengaging film, these stem from the strains of family drama and the times we see Nic by himself, struggling to keep his face straight and wishing to escape a life he sees as black and grey. On the most part though this is a movie that doesn’t grip you at all and is far to carefully put together. The sheen of it all is not what a movie concerning this drug fuelled subject matter should possess.
Oh boy, there are some beautiful shots in this film but whereas they’d normally be a good quality for a feature, they become a glistening distraction from a story that needs to look and feel much grittier. Who would be standing out in the mist on a bend in the road under some perfectly crooked trees, what mum would be situated neatly in front of an oval gap on a balcony overlooking a neat skyline when discussing the tragic downward spiral of their son. It all looks to pristine, as if the film doesn’t know how to make itself grimier and more alarming to sit up and pay attention to.
‘Beautiful Boy’ is extremely lacking in emotional substance, call me cold-hearted but I just never found the film struck a chord with me. Usually a film with this sort of content would make me tear up, if not at least get misty eyed but instead without warning my eyelids wanted to rest and there was utterly no gut-wrenching impact from it. I doubt it’s my stony nature because I weep at more and more things, it’s likely because this film is a saccharine trip of melodrama with songs appearing almost every 5 minutes doing little to connect and more to guffaw at the attempt to elicit a sad response.
Chalamet is the biggest positive within the movie. It’s like only he knows the mood of the piece he’s involved in and he plays this troubled figure with a captivating touch. The trauma of addiction is felt every time he turns up on screen whereas the likes of Carell, Amy Ryan and Maura Tierney just can’t quite to reach the power of their young cohort.
‘Beautiful Boy’ is a film that is too clean for a worrying account on drug addiction. It is also one trying to be emotionally manipulative but when it cannot even manipulate to feel any emotion, that can never be good.