Beautiful Boy and Cold War, the films Amazon Studios brought to Deadline’s The Contenders LA on Saturday at the DGA Theater, both dig deep into troubled and tortured relationships.

Based on not one but two memoirs – those of father and son David and Nic Sheff – Beautiful Boy looks at the impact of addiction and its toll on family connection.

“I saw a very epic story about a father and son trying to come to terms with addiction,” said writer-director Felix Van Groeningen (Broken Circle Breakdown). “It’s an eye-opener about how we as a society still look upon addiction as a moral failure. It was unique and had never been done before, and I just felt like it was worth taking on.”

Van Groeningen, Ryan, Carell and Chalamet
Chris Chapman

Steve Carell was the first to come on board, as the father, David. “We had been talking for years about who the right person could be,” Van Groeningen said. “I’m a huge fan of The Big Short, which he had also made with Plan B. He’s a very dedicated father, and there were just so many things for me that just fitted.”

When Timothée Chalamet joined as son Nic, everything just clicked. “His fearlessness is really his genius, I think,” Van Groeningen said. “They had this great vibe together, and it was clear they were the perfect father and son.”

Co-writer Luke Davies at first was reluctant to take on another story of addiction, after his work on 2006’s Candy with Heath Ledger, and Davies’ own past issues with addiction.

I was about to take the meeting with Jeremy Kleiner at Plan B,” he said. “and I said to my agent, ‘I’m not going to take this meeting.'” Then Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom Davies had also known, tragically passed away, yet further affecting Davies’ enthusiasm for the addiction topic.

Fortunately, the night before that meeting with Kleiner, Davies’ father wrote him an email reminding him of what had led to Davies writing Candy. “At that moment I felt I’d never dealt with the father-son relationship in Candy because it was too difficult, too loaded,” Davies said. “And I felt with this I finally get to explore the father-son relationship.”

The Pawel Pawlikowski-directed Cold War also takes a look at the emotional ties that bind, exploring the troubled and tortured relationship between Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) in post-WWII Poland.

Julia Kulig Cold War The Contenders LA
Kulig
Rob Latour/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock

“It was really great and wonderful love,” Kulig said, “but it was impossible at the same time. It was Amy Winehouse for a moment because Zula was so talented, so emotional, so great, but at the same time she had such a difficult childhood. She started to destroy herself using alcohol. She loved Wiktor, but she would drink alcohol and have sex with other guys.”

The Contenders LA audience were treated not only to the uber-talented Kulig singing in a clip from the film but also live onstage, as she artfully demonstrated two versions of the same song from the film. Laughing as the audience applauded enthusiastically, Kulig then humbly explained that not every aspect of the film came easily to her. “I’m not a professional dancer,” she said. “For me it was really hard work. I worked with a choreographer, with partners, with dancers, and step-by-step it was much much better.”