Basically just an anti-drug PSA.
Before I go to review a movie, I try to erase any expectations I may have. It’s best to go into the theatre with an empty mind, that way you’re either pleasantly surprised – Lady Gaga slaying in A Star Is Born (2018) – or honestly disappointed – the dull plot of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018). But I have to admit, my expectations for Beautiful Boy (2018) were pretty high. How could they not be? It’s the true story of a father and son who struggle through the latter’s meth addiction, played respectively by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, both of who are acclaimed Academy Award nominees.
Based on David Sheff’s memoir, “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction,” as well as his son Nic’s, “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines,” Beautiful Boy focuses on the strained relationship between father and son as Nic’s addiction takes its toll on his family and rips his life apart. As expected, Timothée Chalamet delivers a powerful and moving performance as Nic, but this movie belongs to Steve Carell, and I dare you to try and fight me on that. As David, Carell is at the top of his game. His incredible range as a dramatic actor is on full display as he’s able to easily shift between a loving father enjoying tender moments with his son, to one that gives into the fear and panic any parent would experience at the thought of their child relapsing. The hope and desperation that Carell conveys is heartbreaking to watch. Oh my God, there’s a scene where Nic calls his dad and tearfully asks for help with his addiction, and David has to refuse him in order to help him while holding back tears of his own. I couldn’t imagine the strength it would take to refuse your child when they ask, “dad, I need your help.” Recently Carell has proven himself to be just as gifted at drama as he is at comedy, and it’s so fucking entertaining to watch. Did you ever think watching Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and The Office (2005 – 2013), that the man who played Brick Tamland and Michael Scott would end up being a phenomenal dramatic actor? I sure didn’t. I wonder what other genres he can pull off. A musical? OH MY GOD, I want Steve Carell and Nathan Lane to play brothers in a movie musical. I don’t know if Carell can sing but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
This may end up being a controversial statement, but I wasn’t a huge fan of Chalamet’s performance as Nic. Don’t get me wrong, he’s fantastic, so much so that I felt like I was watching a documentary of the real Nic Sheff battling his addiction. But, I don’t know, there just wasn’t anything particularly original or revolutionary about his performance. It felt very, “copy and paste drug addict,” y’know? Like I said, he’s good, but those good scenes are few and far between. More often than not he comes off as angsty, whiny, and bitchy, which I suppose is fair considering meth addicts are prone to violent mood swings, but I just found myself wanting more Steve Carell. I mean, duh, when do I not want more Steve Carell? Side note, my dad just needs to LOOK at a picture of Steve Carell and he’s on the floor laughing. Evan Almighty (2007) is criminally underrated and legit hilarious.
Speaking of criminally underrated, both Amy Ryan and Maura Tierney are in this movie, playing David’s first wife Vicki and his second wife Karen, respectively. They were so underused, I couldn’t believe it. I understand that the story is about a father and son, but really? It’s his mom and stepmom. Neither one of them can recite an emotional monologue about who hard it is to live with a son struggling through addiction and how it affects them as a mother? No? Just crying and silently supporting the male characters? It’s literally based off of true events. Are you telling me that neither Vicki or Karen confronted Nic in a cinematic way over the years? I’m a little disappointed movie. It honestly feels like their scenes, especially Maura Tierney’s, were cut in favour of something between Nic and David (which I guess is fine), or something incredibly artsy.
Oh my God, is this movie artsy. Nic recites poetry, David has pretentious opinions on popular music, and Karen paints trees. Is that a thing? Tree-painting? I don’t think it’s a thing. The sheer artsy-ness of it reminds me of a student film, or at least a foreign one. I suppose that makes sense considering this is Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen’s English-language debut. His direction coupled with the gorgeous cinematography makes for some fantastic shots, including beautiful sunlit landscapes of the California coast, and haunting visuals that serve as a physical manifestation for the horrors going on inside a drug addict’s mind. I also have to give Van Groeningen major props for the excellent way he uses showing over telling. I know that I talk about showing over telling a lot, but what can I say? Not enough movies do it and it’s a fantastic way to tell a story. I can totally see Beautiful Boy being nominated for best cinematography as well as best director, alongside it’s inevitable nomination for best adapted screenplay.
As wonderful as the performances and direction are, this movie is not without its definite problems. Chief among them? It’s depressing as FUCK. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting any laughs in this drug drama, but there aren’t even a few light or touching scenes to give you a smile or reprieve from all the grim angst. Like, if you thought Steve Carell was going to make some sort of joke to ease the tension, don’t hold your breathe. The pacing is also glacially slow, it’s a fool’s errand to try and keep track of the timeline, and we don’t really get to understand why Nic started doing drugs. Instead, we’re given vague answers about not being able to cope, and frequent mentions of how his bright future as a writer is in jeopardy. Okay, we never see him write, nor do we hear anything he’s written. These are the types of things things you need to spend time on movie! Make us understand the type of gift he’s throwing away! Oh my God, you know what else was frustrating? Clearly the movie thought it was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) for a minute, because there were SEVERAL different endings. Multiple times I was like, “oh, what a nice ending…wait, what, there’s more?” I was ready for it to end. I had to go to the bathroom.
The overall message and performances in Beautiful Boy are exactly that: Beautiful. However, the overly depressing tone and the way it feels like an anti-drug PSA you’d watch in health class, prevent me from recommending you watch it. At least not in theatres. Maybeeee, if you’re at home and feel like crying? I will say this though, it’s almost worth watching just for the real-estate porn that is David and Karen’s property. I guess there’s money in tree-painting.
Will you see Beautiful Boy? Do you prefer Steve Carell when he’s making you laugh or cry?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!