There are a few movies out there that I deem “essential one-time viewing” films. Movies like TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, IRREVERSIBLE, and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM are just a few examples of films that fall into this personal category of mine. They are films that hurt so good. Films that I recommend with a full disclaimer. Films that are beautiful and gut wrenching at the same time. With its timely, poignant, and intensely emotional true story, BEAUTIFUL BOY is the latest addition to my “one and done” catalog.
BEAUTIFUL BOY is based on both the David Sheff bestseller of the same name as well as his son Nic’s equally successful memoir called Tweak. Each book provides a heartbreaking look at drug addiction from both sides of the painful equation, and writer director Felix Von Groeningen as well as co-writer Luke Davies combine both deeply personal accounts to tell the well-rounded story.
Set in the early 2000s, the film dives straight into one of Nic’s particularly rough episodes. He is still living at home with his dad, stepmom, and younger siblings and suddenly turns up after disappearing for two days. From here the film rewinds to a year prior when Nic’s escapades were more of the normal pot-smoking high school student variety. Though his father was cautious about this behavior, he felt confident that, like most straight-A college bound kids, he needn’t worry about this typical phase in his son’s adolescence. As the narrative catches up to real time and moves forward, however, it becomes apparent that Nic’s demons are far from average.
As Nic and David’s saga continues, a central theme emerges- you can’t save people from addiction. Only they can save themselves from the grips of the merciless disease. After all, Nic’s plight began with so many advantages. A stable home life including a close relationship with his successful writer father, a cool Bohemian artist stepmom who loves him like one of her own, a mostly absent but ever-supportive mother, plus acceptance into not one but six universities of his choice. Yet despite all of the odds in his favor, Nic succumbs to the relentless hold of his harrowing addiction.
Van Groeningen paints a perfect picture of the angst a parent and their entire family goes through when living with a loved one who forsakes them for his or her high. Flashbacks of Nic throughout his childhood serve as a agonizing reminder that the gaunt, erratic young addict was once someone’s beloved beautiful boy. With moments like these punctuated with a captivating grunge-era soundtrack (plus an impeccably timed gut punch in the form of the brutally wistful song Sunrise Sunset) Van Groeningen hits all the tormented emotional feels.
Steve Carell is simply awe inspiring as the quiet and determined father who refuses to give up on his son- until he realizes that turning his back may be the only way to ultimately save Nic, his family, and his sanity. His measured and relatable portrayal of the deeply conflicted father is astonishing yet understated all at the same time.
As Nic, Timothée Chalamet turns in another incredible performance - or performances in this case. It’s almost like he plays multiple roles throughout the film. There’s bright and endearing normal Nic, hooded-eyed and lethargic Nic, anxious and tweaked Nic, and ultimately anguished and broken Nic. Chalamet handles every season of his character with the same deft ability that has already garnered the young actor an Oscar nod.
Though it is certainly a difficult watch, BEAUTIFUL BOY is that perfect blend of gorgeous storytelling and cautionary tale that makes for essential viewing for all walks- not just those checking off their list of Oscar bait. It’s no surprise that the film will speak volumes for those who have dealt in some way or another with addiction, but it will also resonate with many more as an unconditional love story as well. I can not recommend BEAUTIFUL BOY strongly enough, but prepare yourself with plenty of tissues and the possibility of a good ugly cry.
BEAUTIFUL BOY opens in theaters nationwide on 10/26. Don’t miss it. Thanks for reading!
Until next time,
Aka Annette Kellerman