When father and son David Sheff and Nic Sheff wrote dueling books from their individual experience dealing with Nic’s severe crystal meth addiction over the course of several years, it didn’t appear the two memoirs could one day be merged into a single motion picture. But indeed it has with the moving, and often intense Beautiful Boy, which had a successful launch at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and now goes out into theaters through Amazon Studios.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), the structure created by screenwriters Luke Davies (Lion) and Felix Van Groeningen, who also directs, is challenging to say the least but still manages to be an effective family story revolving around a son sinking into the abyss of drug addiction and a father desperately at wits’ end trying to save him. In this age of an increasing opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, this remains a pertinent warning shot about the consequences of addiction and the less-than-easy way out.
At its heart, though, employing flashbacks and present-day scenes, Beautiful Boy is about family and the stuff of life that tears it apart, the things only familial love can even attempt to conquer. Felix Van Groeningen, the Belgian director who was Oscar nominated for his foreign film The Broken Circle Breakdown, makes his English-language debut here, but the film still has a bit of a European sensibility to it — less of a more traditional linear take like the upcoming and in some ways similar Ben Is Back employs. This film benefits from the competing narratives of the story as told through the eyes of the father and son, who are played superbly by Steve Carell, again proving his immense dramatic talents, and Timothée Chalamet, who more than lives up to the promise of Call Me by Your Name, Ladybird and Miss Stevens. He brings a heartbreaking reality to a young man unable to lift himself out of the void and really puts a human face on the way drugs can take over your life, even after several trips to rehab.
It seems to be an unending odyssey for both Nic and his family, including his mother and David’s ex-wife Vicki (Amy Ryan, excellent), still in conflict over what happened to their “beautiful boy,” and David’s new wife Karen (Maura Tierney, also very fine), who is thrust into this family nightmare.
What is most interesting is the sense of helplessness — the feeling to just give up at a certain point that seems to permeate David Sheff. This is a movie that refuses to offer easy answers to a gut-wrenching situation so many families have to endure. Also impressive is the use of music and an eclectic soundtrack that includes everything from Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings” to Perry Como’s plaintive “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof to the John Lennon lullaby that provides the film’s title and is what father used to sing to his young son.
Among the supporting cast is Kaitlyn Dever as a girl Nic should not be getting involved with but does anyway and briefly Timothy Hutton, whose presence here reminds us of the similar (in some ways) Ordinary People, for which he won a Supporting Actor Oscar in 1981. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw another Timothée in the same position for this performance. His recitation of a monologue by Charles Bukowski runs over the entire end credits and it is extraordinary. Don’t get up and leave until the absolute finish of this film. Producers for Plan B are Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. Amazon puts it into limited release on Friday.
Do you plan to see Beautiful Boy? Let us know what you think.