Beautiful Boy (2019)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama  |   Run Time - 112 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Travis Norris

Based on the real-life memoirs of David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy is an in-depth look at the effects of methamphetamine addiction and the not-so-easy path to recovery. The film never shies away from the family's struggle, the brutal realism of addiction, or the last gasps of hope that can pull together or tear apart even the strongest of foundations. In this sense, director Felix van Groeningen accomplishes a successful glimpse into the life of an addict. Only hampered by iffy performances and staggered storytelling, Beautiful Boy is an eye-opening and disturbing journey through a life that many of us know too little about.

David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) are very close. After experiencing his parent's divorce at a very young age, Nic was sent back and forth from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As Nic grew older, his anxiety and loneliness started to control him, and he found comfort in a wide-array of drugs. What started as harmless experimentation became a desperate chase for his next high, and Nic was completely overtaken by a crystal meth addiction. As concerned parents, David and Karen (Maura Tierney) (Nic's stepmother), check him into a recovery center with the desperate hope that this will all just blow over. Unfortunately, a battle with addiction can never truly be cured. They soon solicit the help of Nic's mother, Vicki (Amy Ryan) and the Sheff family's life-long fight against Nic's illness begins.

Beautiful Boy can be very hard to watch, but it's almost necessary to watch for anyone interested in the topic. The film is very grounded, a deliberate move by van Groeningen. Each fight, theft, tear and relapse feels disturbingly real, so much so that viewers may quickly start to sympathize with Nic's struggle rather than wonder why he cannot stop. The realism doesn't stop with Nic and we get to see how addiction can make a father question every decision, every mistake, and every moment of his parenthood.

Unfortunately, some of the performances in Beautiful Boy are lacking, and certain moments in the film fall flat as a result. The chemistry between Carell and Chalamet is never fully developed, and some of their more emotional scenes fail to hit home. The story is also more convoluted than necessary, as van Groeningen and his writing staff make the decision to jump back and forth in time, making the final product feel a bit jumbled.

Beautiful Boy sheds light on a difficult subject that is timeless and even can be classified as an epidemic. This makes for a difficult viewing, but it will leave an impression on anyone who sees it. It could be argued that a movie like this is more of a larger-than-life public service announcement, and it would be tough to disagree. Not all cinema is meant to be pure entertainment, and Beautiful Boy embodies this sentiment.