It was Steve Carell, not Timothee Chalamet, who got me sobbing at Beautiful Boy. That's not to say young Tim isn't excellent in this drug addiction drama - he absolutely is. (If you've seen Call Me By Your Name you already know how well this lad can act.) But Felix van Groeningen's film is doing something that the Trainspotting films only hinted at and that the terrifying Requiem for a Dream bypassed altogether. It's focusing as much on the addict's family as the user himself. The results are more powerful and affecting than anything I'd expected going in.
Beautiful Boy is based on memoirs written by David and Nic Sheff, a father and son who lived the devastating reality of what Carell and Chalamet portray on screen. The movie begins with the dad, a successful journalist, researching the effects of crystal methamphetamine. Flashing back a year we witness his discovery that his teen son has been experimenting with multiple drugs, falling prey to crystal meth in particular. David has brought up Nic largely on his own, before remarrying and starting a family with a new partner Karen (Maura Tierney). But the bond between him and his son, although intensely close, is now in danger of being destroyed by Nic's drug-related sickness and its grim effects.
This film does a quite remarkable job of conveying happiness shattered by addiction. Its San Fransisco locations take on a dreamlike quality at points - sun-dappled and gorgeous, with step-mom Karen's colourful artwork decking trees. It only serves, however, as a contrast with the darkness into which Nic is dragging his family. The same is true of the father/son relationship. The strength of their connection is established swiftly and touchingly, but acts as a painful reminder of all they've shared and lost. Then there's the fragmented quality of the narrative - jolting around in time, with two other actors playing younger versions of Nic. His is not the only broken life, it suggests, with his dad and others sucked into the disorienting cycle of drug-use, rehabilitation and relapse.
Beautiful Boy has sliced opinion in two, some labelling it preachy and others decrying its concern with middle-class white victimhood. Both criticisms are wildly shy of the mark. The film doesn't preach - it chronicles the son's stumbling progress and the dad's flailing attempts at understanding what the hell is going on. And as for the 'privilege' issue, that's the story's whole point. There's no family life so charmed that it can't be devastated by addiction - and when that happens, your privilege means zero. It's an unhappy thought, one brought vividly to life in this emotionally brutal but undeniably beautiful film.
Gut Reaction: Bodily contortions, gripping of chin/bridge of nose, tears - twice. Visceral experience throughout.
Memorable Moment: The toughest phone conversation a dad could have.
Ed's Verdict: 9/10. When I say 'beautiful', I mean it. A paean to familial love, and pain when things go terribly wrong. If it weren't so tender, it wouldn't be so tragic.