Transcendental films are the ones that go beyond traditional cinema, altering the viewer’s current state of mind, becoming something more. There are certain movies that achieved a truly moving feeling – not just on an emotional level but on a spiritual one as well. No film this year has arguably accomplished something like this until now. Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy, starring Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell, is a film deals with one of America’s biggest problems, youth using hard drugs. The film’s biggest tragedy is that people, at some point in their lives, have experienced something similar to what is being seen on screen. Addiction is a very real problem, one that hits close to home for me as well. And that is where the film truly shines. Expertly showcasing the impact addiction can have on a family, Beautiful Boy is a heartbreaking but important story that includes phenomenal performances, incredible music and a message to everyone experiencing some form of addiction – you are not alone.
From the memoirs of David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his son Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet) comes Beautiful Boy. The story chronicles Nic’s struggle with addiction and the incapability of David to help his son despite his best efforts. The movie showcases how “relapse is a part of recovery” as Nic will become sober for several months at a time but eventually start using drugs, particularly crystal meth, once more. Eventually, David must reckon with the possibility that Nic is beyond saving and he has done all he can.
Beautiful Boy’s biggest strength is that director Van Groeningen wisely uses both David and Nic’s separate memoirs to craft this narrative. Through this, neither character’s perspective on the issues at hand take over, resulting in one cohesive story that not only gives you glimmers of hope, but also shatters your heart. There are moments where we sympathize with David, a father who wants nothing more than to help his son; to get him back to the man he used to be. At the same time you begin to relate to Nic, a son who did not experience an abusive childhood that led to this but rather an incredibly loving one where addiction began creeping up more and more. It is several build ups of hope followed by hard falls. The feature masterfully demonstrates that in times like this no answer is easy to obtain and that there is no end-cure-be-all.
The range of emotions felt throughout the film is unparalleled as we watch, through David’s eyes, Nic fall prey to drugs. Unlike a story where David’s heart would just consistently break, we watch Nic go through life (the film flips between Nic’s past and the present). The film does not shy away from humorous moments — a tender moment between a young Nic and his father in a car, singing a heavy metal track. But then you are quickly reminded that that version of Nic no longer exists as the film switches back to him falling off the wagon again. The script, co-written by Luke Davies and the director, is an incredibly realistic look into shattered lives without becoming preachy. Anger, despair, hilarity and love are all on display as the audience sniffles constantly throughout the entire runtime.
In what should come as no surprise, each performance in Beautiful Boy is nothing short of fantastic. Steve Carell gives the performance of his career has David Sheff. Displaying his incredible range here, Carell immediately makes you feel for his character as David does everything in his power to help Nic until slowly realizing that he may not be able to anymore. Timothee Chalamet is equally incredible as Nic, giving the “based-on-a-true-story” character a unique but relatable feel. As I said above, there is nothing inherently wrong about the life Nic lived, so Chalamet instead uses the feeling of helplessness to instead elevate the performance. Both actors will surely catapult this film right into awards buzz for this upcoming season.
With the film putting much of the focus on Nic and David, the feature’s supporting cast is usually regulated to the back. While this is a negative, it does not negate the fact that the supporting cast also churned out terrific performances. Maura Tierney, who plays David’s second wife and Nic’s stepmother Karen, is easily the strongest amongst the rest of the cast. She is the wild card in the trifecta as she sees both perspectives and wants to help both men to the best of her abilities. One scene in particular really hits home as we watch Nic break into David and Karen’s house and then rush away in his car. Karen tries to chase after him in her car but when it breaks down, so does she. Her tears struck every chord imaginable. Even though Nic is not her son, she loves him and wants him back; the boy who lovingly held his younger siblings but is now on the verge of killing himself.
In truth, the one point of struggle for the film is with the fact that story stagnates for a little while. Nic constantly flips between sober and becoming an addict again, and in a film where the characters feel stuck, the story inevitably becomes stuck as well. At some point, no one has answers so no one can move forward, causing the film to lose energy for a time. Tragedy does not go away quickly and again, while this is a realistic look into things like this, the film has to progress. It does eventually, just not as quickly as you would want it to.
While the film does use a score for a handful of sequences, it instead opts to make use of a soundtrack to convey the vast range of emotions. From heavy metal to soft country — the music constantly sucks you right into what David is experiencing or the high feeling Nic practices regularly. In some cases, this can backfire but for Beautiful Boy, the expert use of several different songs elevates the film’s sunken, raw sentiment and it makes for a stronger, more impactful story.
Beautiful Boy is by far one of my favourite films of the year. I’m incredibly grateful to have watched this film at TIFF 2018 but at the same time, I left the theatre feeling the same way I did when LOGAN ended. Both films ended on a somber, yet hopeful note but both to me hit close to home. As someone who has experienced the power of addiction in my life, Beautiful Boy gives the rest of the world an inside look into how it impacts the person, his family and the rest of their lives. It is an incredibly heartbreaking and important watch because it deals with a problem that is very prevalent today. You constantly ask “how could it get this bad” and “what can I do to help?” At some point, you realize that maybe there truly is nothing you can do but that does not mean hope is lost. Remember what Charles Xavier said: “Just because someone stumbles, loses their way… does not mean they are lost forever.” I cannot recommend this film enough and if you have a chance to watch it at the festival, please do; and bring tissues.
Rating – 9/10
Beautiful Boy will hit theatres on October 12, 2018.