Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy is a based on a memoir by David Sheff about the struggles he and his family went through dealing with his son Nic’s addition to meth and other drugs. The memoir was a bestseller back in 2008 but the current drug crisis in the United States underscores its continued relevance. T

The film version, starring Steve Carell as David and Timothée Chalamet as Nic, is so bluntly devoted to the ups, downs and endless trials of drug addiction that it never finds its own identity. So many of these films exist. To be fair, so many of these stories deserve to be told. But Beautiful Boy never figures out precisely how it wants to differentiate itself from the pack. It’s an imperfect film with a solid heart and good performances, not one of the best of the year or its kind.

As a fellow critic said: I’m not entirely sure who the target audience is.

Interviews with Nic Sheff indicate his intention was to show how the family weathered his relapses and grew closer, but the narrative here doesn’t really show that happening. The movie just wraps up in an anticlimax, five title cards about “where they are now,” and some context about the current overdose epidemic. The Sheffs’ struggle is indeed harrowing and the performances sell it. Even the movie’s extended runtime, easily 30 minutes longer than what feels emotionally viable, creates a feeling of being trapped in an endless cycle alongside the characters. I’ll give them that: It’s what they’re asking of the audience, and rightfully so. And yet … the ending still feels like a non-resolution to  a story because we know Nic and David continue to progress through life and ongoing recovery.

That story feels like an important addition to the one shown in this movie, particularly because its biggest emotional beat — the turning point moment — comes at the end. Although it acts as a culmination, the problem is that the story for most of the runtime is pretty much the same kind of addiction narrative seen in other films — lying, stealing, fraught conversations.

Nothing about Beautiful Boy is bad (beside the soundtrack), just inert. I cared and loved and empathized with Nic and David the whole way through but felt a distinct “is this winding down yet?” as it went on. I can’t explain why, exactly. There’s compassion here, kindness, and even authenticity.

I just don’t know to whom I could recommend this unless you’re a fan of Steve Carell, Mourning Father — a role he’s cornered these last few Academy Award seasons.


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Administrator of Midwest Film Journal. Previously a staff writer for TheFilmYap.com, Evan has been writing film criticism in the Indianapolis area for over half a decade. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. He also reviews Oreos.


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