Steve Carell is one busy guy. “Beautiful Boy” was one of three movies he put out in 2018 and his sixth in two years. The film also stars Timothée Chalamet, a good young actor who has essentially become the new Jennifer Lawrence. You know what I mean – a hot young newcomer who gets loads of critical attention and awards nominations for pretty much anything he does…at least for a few years.
I don’t want to cut Chalamet short. He is a good actor. Maybe not to a level matching the overflowing praise, but good nonetheless. For proof look no further than “Beautiful Boy”. His portrayal of a drug addicted 18-year-old calls for a big performance that grabs most of the attention. It’s a role that easily could have went the wrong way. But hats off to Chalamet for keeping his performance under control.
At its core “Beautiful Boy” is a heartbreaking father/son story based on the memoirs of author David Sheff and his son Nic. Carell portrays Sheff, a father broadsided by the discovery that his teenage son Nic (Chalamet) is a drug addict. The two have always had a close loving relationship but the drug abuse drives a wedge between them. So as Nic tries to break the grip of addiction David tries to deal with the painful reality that his relationship with his son may never be the same.
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen and adapted by Van Groeningen and Luke Davies, “Beautiful Boy” has all the ingredients it needs to tell this story and it does a good job dividing its time between father and son. In many ways this is more about David and the problem of hope turning to naiveté. He believes that love and encouragement will cure his son and as a writer he has always had the right words. Reality shows him different. Carell hits most of the right beats, but there are moments, particularly the emotionally heavy ones, that aren’t quite as strong.
At the same time they wisely don’t overdo it with Nic. He is a very believable representation of a young addict in part because of Chalamet, but just as much due to the the script. Flashbacks reveal a bright teen full of joy yet not always helped by his father’s decisions. But even as he unravels the script never loses sight of his deep human qualities and emotions. This makes the looming uncertainty all the more devastating.
Strangely not all of the film is as engrossing as the performances or the story material. It’s hard to put a finger on why. It’s not that it lacks a realistic edge or the characters fall short. It’s more to do with the rhythm of the storytelling which is a bit uneven in the second half. But it doesn’t undo the film’s ability to evoke empathy and heartache. And in the end that’s what the movie needed to do the most.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS