TIFF 2018: Beautiful Boy
Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet are both outstanding in this profoundly moving story of a young man dealing with addiction
Beautiful Boy is a mosaic of memory and feeling told through a desperate father’s eyes and a boy’s path to a troubled adulthood. It's also a portrait of the addict as a young man. Softness and sharp edges all blur into one in Felix van Groeningen's film about the inescapable grasp of substance abuse and the role it played in the lives of father and son David and Nic Sheff. Based on the real-life memoirs of both men, the film documents Nic’s spiral into crystal meth addiction, his efforts at recovery, and his most painful relapses.
Van Groeningen delivers a delicate and nuanced account of the Sheff family in crisis. Both Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet are outstanding as David and Nic respectively, and they share an authentic empathy and connection that guides the entire film. Their performances, and the tone of the film as a whole, never venture too close to saccharine sentimentality. While there may be issues in addressing wealth and privilege in this story, it is very difficult not to be profoundly moved by it.
Flashbacks are used throughout and they appear with a rich grain and warm colour, a glimpse into a happier past. In one of the more poignant memory sequences, David takes Nic surfing and briefly loses sight of him in the crashing waves. His parental panic sets in, the sheer terror of a child lost at sea before Nic appears soaring through the water with skill and elegance, a fearless performer. The sound of waves can be heard faintly later in the film, now that Nic truly is lost at sea.
Beautiful Boy is often devastating to watch. It is the tragedy of a boy who doctors say is physically “unable not unwilling” to defy his addiction. Rehab centres remind Nic and the other patients that this is not their fault, but this seems little consolation in the face of the ever-deepening pain they feel. What they can’t explain, or find in anything else, is the release the drugs give them from a reality that leaves them completely numb. David’s best intentions and profound longing for his son lead him down a path of intense investigation, frantically searching for a way to piece Nic’s fractured life back together. It is the saddest realisation of all that there is very little he is capable of doing. Beautiful Boy is an affecting drama with impressive lead performances, guided by a sensitive directorial hand.
Beautiful Boy had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival and is released in the UK 18 Jan by StudioCanal. For more of our TIFF coverage, head to theskinny.co.uk/festivals/international-festivals
Follow Caitlin Quinlan on Twitter at @csaquinlan