Review: Beautiful Boy: A true story of addiction and hope

Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney and Steve Carell in "Beautiful Boy". Photo credit: Amazon Studios.

By Mariana Sánchez Gaona
BU News Service

BOSTON — Looking for your teenage son on the streets when he doesn’t come home can be an excruciating experience. It’s a recurring one for David Sheff (Steve Carell). His son, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet), tends to disappear when he is high.

The movie “Beautiful Boy” is the story of father and son, David and Nic Sheff, and their ongoing battle with Nic’s drug dependency. The script is based on two memoirs: “Beautiful Boy,” by David Sheff and “Tweak,” by Nic Sheff.

The movie tries to blend two perspectives of addiction: one from a father who is constantly trying to help his addicted son and the other from the son, who tries to stay sober only to relapse. The story is a reminder that when someone is addicted to a substance it affects their entire family.

From the first scene, David is trying to help Nic, who is doing crystal meth. He wants to know more about his son’s drug addiction, in an attempt to help him. We go back to the previous year of their lives, just before things get out of control.

David is constantly picking him off the streets and getting him to the best treatments he can afford. Nic even enrolls in college but drops out after relapsing. David feels he has failed as a father.  

After more than a year of sobriety, Nic relapses. It’s hopeless seeing someone who has just left his family, who seems happy and is desperate to use drugs again. He can’t stop willingly and staying sober is a difficult burden.

Nic asks David if he could come home after a friend of his almost overdoses. David says no. He gives up on rescuing his son. He believes that Nic will die if he keeps intervening or if Nic keeps using. David realizes he can’t cure his son’s disease.

David and his wife Karen (Maura Tierney) go a to support group for family members of addicts. A woman is talking about her experience with her recently deceased daughter. She mentions being in mourning before her death because she was waiting for this to happen.

The performances from Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell are convincing, especially the work from the young actor. Chalamet shows Nick’s desperation, hopelessness and ingenuity. Carell offers a touching performance of a father’s desperation to keep his son alive.

The movie jumps time with little reference and sometimes unnecessarily. There are some jump cuts that take you out of the story.

The acting performances drive the narrative and carry the movie forward. We don’t see much outside of David and Nic’s relationship. Nic’s mother is an in-and-out character and so is his stepmother. The story doesn’t show much outside of Nick’s addiction. 

We are introduced to the story when Nick’s drug abuse worsens. We see little of who he was before or what led him to this. Before the final credits roll, a statement about the opioid crisis in the U.S. shows up in the screen, which had little to do with Nick’s specific addiction.

The movie can be useful for understanding addiction. It implies that it can happen to anyone. Addiction is not an easy disease to comprehend: some believe it is a choice and sheer will its solution. People with addiction don’t get the same compassion and understanding as someone with cancer might.  It is difficult to get that, as mentioned in the movie, relapse is part of the recovery.

People who have been fortunate enough to not know the disease up close might have preconceptions about it. Addiction does not have a face.

Prejudices might impede someone with a drug abuse disorder to get the appropriate treatment and care. According to the director, Felix van Groeningen, he hoped the film “in some small way, could give voice to so many people struggling with addiction. To show (…) the complexity of the illness.”

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