Beautiful Boy is now showing on Amazon Prime.
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy was the first of several addiction dramas to hit our screens in 2018/19. Van Groeningen was to offer us an emotionally charged yet tender film exploring the horrors of teenage addiction and the sheer power of unconditional love through the journey of a father and son battling a narcotic killer. Based on the memoirs of David Sheff (Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction) and Nic Sheff (Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines), Beautiful Boy chronicled a father (Steve Carell) attempting to support his son (Timothée Chalamet) as methamphetamines consumed his life.
Beautiful Boy would confront its audience with the stark realities of addiction through unflinching performances of remarkable depth and clarity, especially from Timothée Chalamet, who embodied the confusion, anger and pain of a boy running on autopilot, desperate to apply breaks that no longer functioned. However, while Chalamet sits front and centre, the real power comes from Carell’s portrayal of a father faced with a situation out of his control as his son slowly drifts further away while he desperately throws lines in an attempt to pull him back in. Here Beautiful Boy explores the uncomfortable boundaries of parental love like The Basketball Diaries (1995), asking us where the barrier between love, hope and distance sits as multiple recovery plans fail.
However, unlike The Basketball Diaries, Beautiful Boy is firmly rooted in American upper-middle-class privilege, and it is here where Felix Van Groeningen’s film occasionally feels hollow. Addiction knows no social-economic boundaries, but treatment does, and in Nic’s case, his family’s wealth and support undoubtedly play into his long road to recovery. However, for too many in America, the reality of addiction is an absence of support due to poverty. The flip side to Nic’s journey can be seen in The Basketball Diaries, where DiCaprio’s Jim is left to find his own path out of addiction while being forced to feed his habit through crime and prostitution. But these discussions on privilege feel absent from Beautiful Boy, and while every scene carries unrelenting power, that absence also creates a slight disconnect.
However, Beautiful Boy also excels in reflecting on the complexities of addiction, acknowledging the many relapses in the recovery journey and the sense of helplessness many parents face in supporting their children. Here the film clearly aims to provide us with a series of discussions as we sit around the sofa digesting the drama unfolding before our eyes. It achieves this goal in spades due to Carell and Chalamet, even if its own discussions on inclusive healthcare, no matter an individual’s background, are sadly absent.
Director: Felix van Groeningen