Beautiful Boy (2018)

FELIX VAN GROENINGEN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.  USA, 2018.  Amazon Studios, Big Indie Pictures, Plan B Entertainment.  Screenplay by Luke Davies, Felix van Groeningen, based on the book Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by Nic Sheff.  Cinematography by Ruben Impens.  Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Brad Pitt.  Music by Gabe Hilfer.  Production Design by Ethan Tobman.   Costume Design by Emma Potter.  Film Editing by Nico Leunen.  Toronto International Film Festival 2018.  Golden Globe Awards 2018.

Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet in Beautiful Boy

Timothee Chalamet is a young man of promise who drops out of college because his drug addiction has taken over his life.  Steve Carell is his father, a writer who has pursued every possible avenue to help his eldest child, paying for expensive rehabs, jumping on airplanes to go rescue him from sidewalks and grubby diners, and is at his wit’s end about how to get his son back on track.  As Chalamet gets worse, Carell becomes more despondent, putting the young man’s care more in the hands of his ex-wife (Amy Ryan) while focusing on his second wife (Maura Tierney) and their two small children.  Even though his behaviour suggests that he has given up, there is an undercurrent of sorrow that holds Carell in a state of limbo, and it is this torture of love and fear that gives this otherwise unremarkable film moments that are touching and genuinely sympathetic.  Carell turns in a surprisingly wooden performance in what is otherwise a very sympathetic character, raising his voice to denote his desperation but never seeming to mean anything he says, while Felix Van Groeningen’s staid direction keeps the story from hitting as deep as it should by focusing more of his attention on overdoing the song selections on the soundtrack than ever finding a proper emotional climax.  Basing the film on two memoirs, one by David Sheff about dealing with his son and one by Nic Sheff about (spoiler alert) his survival, means that there is never a sharp perspective from which the tale is told, hovering above both characters and observing their pain without ever quite tapping into it; it’s smart that the movie avoids 1950s-style psychological catharsis, deciding that it is living in his father’s shadow or the sorrow of his parent’s divorce that has caused the young man’s addiction is therefore the key to unraveling it all, but not examining these people up close also makes the film feel unimportant and shallow.  Chalamet is simultaneously the main reward and flaw in the experience, a superbly talented and sensitive actor with whom you cannot help but fall in love, but whose gorgeous Theda Bara looks never fail him for a second.  Human decency demands that you feel sorry for someone who is wasting all that potential, but 1950s-style Movie Star Syndrome also means that he has that porcelain skin and gorgeous, bouncy hair even after years of snorting meth in dirty public bathrooms (it’s like casting Sharon Stone as a used car salesman, some people simply can’t play losers).  A series of brief cameos are featured, the best of them a superb LisaGay Hamilton in one scene as the mother of an addict.

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