Beautiful Boy Review
Being a teenager is by no means easy. Being a parent of a teenager certainly isn’t either. Whether it’s to the well-meaning and beleaguered father David (Steve Carell) or his introverted and troubled son Nick (Timothée Chalamet), it's through dynamic that most will immediately relate to Beautiful Boy, but things soon take a darker turn. Nick’s life is put in grave danger by an unexpected foray into hard drugs, leaving his father wondering where exactly it all went wrong – and what being a good father means in this context.
During our teens, we are brought face to face with the harsh reality (or, in Nick’s words, the “mundane reality”) of the adult world at such a vulnerable stage, while still restricted by the rules set out for children. During this transition, parents like David can lose touch with their kids, and start to wonder who they are. In Nick's case, this means going from straight A's to Methamphetamine withdrawal, a jump that leaves his father lost. "This isn't us! This is not who we are," David tells his son, doing his best to bridge the gap in understanding without the tools to do so, and we’re with him every step of the way.
We jump into the drama from the offset, with no substantive build to the emotional highs. Normally, this can be a little dissatisfying, but the actors make the best out of even the smallest moments. The times that Nick’s life is out of his hands, David returns to his son’s room, searching through Nirvana posters and Fitzgerald novels and Bukowski poetry to find any answer for their separation and Nick’s growing drug problem. Beautiful Boy is at its best during these stages, as the film becomes a collage of David’s thoughts and emotions in his son’s absence, broken up by nostalgic memories for what once was.
Aside from a few uneven moments, Carrell absolutely sells the panic, obsession, and dedication to his son, while the mosaic structure of the film’s middle stages brings us into his headspace. Chalamet’s performance is the most diverse and challenging of the film, leaving an impression even when he’s off screen. His character casts a large shadow over the proceedings, making us worry for his safety much like his father does. When we see him again, in his good moments and his bad, it’s as if we are seeing David’s hopes and uttermost fears for him brought to life.
Nick is shaped by his father too, as we see them on individual journeys that weave in and out of each other. The film delivers on its promise to provide some insight into how a smart child with an attentive, supportive father growing up in a household of opportunity ends up facing such darkness, a pursuit undoubtedly bolstered by the strength of the supporting cast, cinematography and music selection. Unfortunately, the underlying message at the heart of the movie is also what starts to derail it. Beautiful Boy may have a lot to say about its central characters, but when it steps up to make larger statements it fails to bring anything new to the table.
The film, based on the real memoirs of David Sheff’s and his son, has a clear lesson to teach – and an important one at that. However, as the film becomes more preoccupied with its moral on the dangers of addiction, the father and son relationship becomes secondary, and the narrative begins to falter.
This pivot wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that the examination of the various stages of drug addiction doesn’t have much depth to draw from. Even with this slight drop in quality, the cast are bringing their A-game, with Mauray Tierney putting in an outstanding if underserved performance, but the film never quite regains its footing.
The sheer amount of time we spend with David and Nick gives us such insight into who they are and such a strong desire to see them pull through, and the raw emotion on display makes it easy to look past the flaws of the movie around them. Beautiful Boy does stumble during its final act, forming an extended epilogue that does little to add to what we know of this issue and the people affected by it, but it never truly falls from grace due to the uncompromising work of its two leads.