Monday, 4 February 2019

Beautiful Boy Film Review

Nic and David Sheff, as portrayed by Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell respectively in the 2019 film, Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy
, a true story, follows the father-son relationship of one Nic Sheff and his father David. Marked by the typical peaks and troughs of any relationship of this kind; at its peak, the two share a bond closer than most. However Nic, a previously star student, falls quickly into a methamphetamine addiction which threatens to destroy himself, and severe the bonds with those he loves the most. The film not only chronicles Nic's tumultuous journey to recovery but also perhaps places more emphasis on David's battle to save his son.

This was one of my most anticipated films of 2019. Having seen and been completely bowled over by Timothee Chalamet's performance in Call Me By Your Name, I was always going to be excited to see what he did next. Particularly as this is a far meatier role to step into. And on the performances front, Beautiful Boy does not disappoint.

We're told it has been adapted from both Nic and David's respective memoirs. I'd argue it leans significantly more on David's perspective. Keep this in mind and it may lower your expectations because this is not a fleshy, addict drama examining the how or why Nic fell into a drug addiction. This is an outsider, parental perspective purely concerned with the is. David finds his son is an addict. Despite his great life prospects, comfortable socio-economic status and a loving family; Nic is battling a disease, one David knows very little about and he's desperately trying to help him. A common criticism of the film has been that it ignores the struggles of addicts who aren't as privileged as Nic, a criticism which perhaps misses the point. Drug addictions do not discriminate. This epidemic affects thousands of "normal" American youth each year. And the points in the narrative which seem to lack true depth or insight into addictions simply show us the outsider perspective. Through David's turmoil, director Felix van Groeningen in many ways pushes us to consider the extent to which we as a society, truly understand and grapple with this epidemic.

The film had all the makings of a fantastic film with a central cast on top form. Maura Tierney is empathetic and open as Nic step-mother, a grounding force of strength and love in their household. Carell is truly affirming as David, his desire to give everything of himself to save his son, heartbreaking. And Chalamet, whose performance utterly unravels you as a viewer. When on screen he draws you in, leaving you lost in the scene. Even when he's not speaking his expressions show you everything he's feeling in those moments.

And yet infuriatingly, van Groeningen doesn't trust the performances are enough to carry this story, choosing instead to explicitly tell audiences how every character is feeling nealy, all time. Whether that be through a soundtrack with lyrics indicating what is happening in/how someone feels. Or literal scenes and dialogue, notably one where David flicks through Nic's diary, displaying his scrawls about his entire drug history as well as motivations.

There are countless moments we yearn yearned for silence and are instead bombarded with Nirvana. These editorial decisions do unfortunately distract from the actors' performances, the film's message and ultimately do let the project down.

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