Review: 'Beautiful Boy' offers sun-dappled but well-acted view of addiction
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By Chip Chandler — Producer
Simultaneously gorgeous and harrowing, Beautiful Boy offers the chance for top-level acting in a counterintuitively beautiful setting.
Stars Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet deliver undeniably powerful work in the film, based on twin memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff chronicling Nic's desperate spiral of crystal meth addiction.
Chalamet, in particular, shines here, more than delivering on the promise he showed last year in Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird. Whip-smart and whippet-thin, Chalamet's Nic has a haunted look in his hollowed eyes — desperately guilt-ridden over what his beastly addiction forces him to do, but helpless in its thrall.
Carell's very good here, too, though as usual in his most serious roles, he's a little stiff. But he's spectacular when it's most important, like a pair of echoing scenes — first, when David begs Nic to let him help in any way, and second, when David forces himself to say no to Nic's most desperate pleas.
Though it's Nic's story and his addiction, we're seeing everything through David's eyes. Director and co-writer Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) makes some interesting choices here, using a fluid time structure that finds David flashing back to happier times without warning, just like a memory can suddenly come to the fore. Is David combing his mind for a clue about what sent Nic down his troubled path?
In another powerful scene, David finds Nic's journals, and we get a terrifying glimpse into the young man's mind: What harm is there in one Percocet?, he wonders. His world was black and white before drugs, then exploded into Technicolor, he writes. "Going back seems like too far of a journey."
Understandably, given the source materials, the film focuses mostly on David and Nic, but Maura Tierney (as David's second wife, Karen) and Amy Ryan (as Nic's mom, Vicki) each offer brilliant support as they, too, are subsumed by Nic's addiction.
Where the film falters, though, is in van Groeningen's decision to play a little too safe with the most distressing aspects of Nic's story. We see him do some awful things, but only to a point; not every film has to be Requiem for a Dream, certainly, but van Groeningen comes too close to TV-movie territory to be completely successful.
You see it in the amazingly privileged lifestyle the characters enjoy (David is a freelance journalist, and clearly I am doing something wrong with my life). And you definitely hear it in the on-the-nose music choices van Groeningen uses; I groaned when Perry Como started singing "Sunrise, Sunset."
But while the film isn't totally effective, Chalamet and Carell deliver where it counts.