Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Screenplay: Luke Davies, Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
Runtime: 120 Minutes
It could be said that Beautiful Boy is a film that insists upon itself, although that’s not entirely something to be taken in a negative light. This awards season drama following the relationship between father David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his methamphetamine-addicted son Nic (Timothée Chalamet), based on the memoir of the same name by Sheff, takes the cycles of substance abuse and addiction, fuelled by adolescent perceptions and presents it as a sort of coming-of-age story stranded in arrested development.
The fact that it repeats the cycle so often of addiction, withdrawal, relapse and dependence is the film making its point heard. But there’s a self-seriousness permeating through so much of it that’s more than a little hard to take.
Not for the content or the subject matter, but the way in which the steadily arranged musical cues play over scenes to heighten the harrowing conflict becomes an oppressing onslaught in the wrong kind of obvious way – such as the scene in which David finds his artistic sons art book as it is presented in editing and audio like a scene from a horror movie.
It doesn’t help that director Felix Van Groeningen’s textbook manners of staging do little to enhance the ‘realism’ factor, especially not in the overlong edit that he has gone in for that feels like it descends into vignettes more so than the whole that he’s counting on. The compare and contrast between flashbacks of the boy (Jack Dylan Grazer) he used to be and the man he is becoming work in the moment, but they’re not always omnipresent.
What works best are the subtleties of the central performances. Carell has proven himself time and again to be a great actor in works other than comedy, and carries the tiresome motions of a man prematurely mourning for the person he once knew very well. Chalamet is still a growing revelation of a young actor, and puts in tremendous work as the addict even if we’re not given as much of a glimpse into the person he was before – although that may be by intention.
Beautiful Boy might be little more than the very white artisanal alternative to an after-school special, but the strength of the performances is what is ultimately holding up. To what emotional depths it will provoke will depend entirely on the background of the viewer, but it works with good intention even if it thinks considerably more of itself than the edit actually displays.