Published Sep 12, 2018When the story of David and Nic Sheff unfolded over a decade ago, it shaped the public understanding of drug addiction by shedding equal amounts of light on both the addicts and their families. David's memoir Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction was a gripping recount of his experiences with Nic's addiction, while Nic's memoir, Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines, was a harrowing first-person account of the rocky road to addiction and recovery. They brought nuance, humour, clarity and context to a bleak epidemic strongly tied to a victim-blaming narrative.
Beautiful Boy, the feature film adaptation of both stories, takes context out of the equation, instead focusing on style over substance. Many of the film's sequences, particularly early on, are hindered by nonlinear visual storytelling, which serves to distract and confound. The scattershot soundtrack, which cobbles together everything from Mogwai to Perry Como (covering "Fiddler on the Roof," naturally), occasionally undercuts the film's most poignant moments. In trying to reconcile the two memoirs, the film focuses on parallels between David (Steve Carell) and Nic (a phenomenal Timothée Chalamet) rather than trying to flesh out the characters independently.
Yet despite the lacking characterization, Chalamet portrays Nic with a haunting desperation, selling the character's arrogant surface while also showcasing the agony beneath. Though the film centres on David before slowly shifting the focus to Nic, Chalamet shines from start to finish. Carell delivers a solid performance as David, though his best moments are all comedic, unable to hit the dramatic highs of his Oscar-nominated performance in Foxcatcher.
However, a sequence reuniting Carell with Amy Ryan (as David's ex-wife/Nic's mother) for the first time since The Office proves that the two bring out the best in each other on-screen, and should co-star more often.
Beautiful Boy touches on the heft of addiction, but not as contextually as David's memoir or as harrowingly as Nic's. Reconciling both memoirs with Van Groeningen's stylistic impulses leads to an uneven effort.