Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy accomplished exactly what it set out to: to give the viewer a sense of the rollercoaster ride that is life as an addict or as the family of an addict. It also makes effective social commentary during a time in which opioid addiction has enveloped the nation. One cannot leave the theatre without a profound sense of sympathy and sadness for the havoc wreaked by a user.
The narrative itself centers around the real-life relationship between a father, Dave Sheff (Steve Carell) and his eldest son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet). Dave, given custody after divorcing Nic’s mother, takes the full brunt of responsibility after it becomes clear that Nic is an addict. He sends Nic to a rehab facility, where Nic eventually makes progress and is allowed to stay in a halfway house. The film follows his struggle with addiction and various cycles of relapse and recovery, and the toll it takes on Nic’s relationship with his family.
The narrative structure itself is disjointed and nonlinear, providing a sense of the day-by-day nature of addiction treatment. Placed throughout the film are snapshots of Nic’s childhood, providing the audience the ability to see through a lens inseparable from Dave’s own perspective as a father. These vignettes provide an unbelievable amount of emotional punch, particularly in contrast with the fearful images of near-death experiences and relapse.
The film as a whole had all of the makings of a best picture winner. The performances by Carell and Chalamet, the driving forces of the film, were divine. Both actors have made apparent that they intend to pursue challenging roles and push the envelope of their own acting capabilities. Particularly for Carell, who is more well-known for his comedic roles, Beautiful Boy is a continuation of his jaunt into drama that started with his role in Foxcatcher back in 2014. Chalamet sets the bar high for young actors. His character, a thoughtful and artistic young writer turned meth head, requires an unimaginable amount of range, especially as the film progresses and Nic’s volatility increases.
The supporting cast also deserves accolades. A particularly powerful montage late in the film involves a chase scene of sorts where Maura Tierney, as Dave Sheff’s second wife Karen Barbour, follows Nic as he drives away from their home. Even though Tierney is a supporting cast member, this scene is the emotional climax of the film. She does not waste her moment and delivers a chilling performance.
Last, but certainly not least, the cinematography, photography and soundtrack tie up the entire package in a way that truly makes this film a best picture contender. Set in Marin County and northern California, the director, Felix van Groeningen, makes use of the natural splendor of the coastal cliffs. The environment, seemingly pure and harmonious, provides a comforting tone to the home that Nic grew up in. A number of breathtaking, serene landscape shots throughout the film are reminiscent of the peaceful times when Nic has managed to be clean, for any amount of time.
In contrast, the city scenes of San Francisco and New York provide for some of the most turbulent of the film, including relapse and run-ins with death. The soundtrack moves with similar flow. From speed grunge to opera, the full spectrum of music is explored, highlighting the unpredictability and complimenting the range of emotions felt by all involved.
It would be shocking for this film not to be in the running for a medley of accolades come award season, both for the group effort and for the individual merits of the lead and supporting cast. It is a film that will make an audience feel everything under the sun, and then some.
Beautiful Boy can be seen at Regal Green Hills. You can buy tickets online here.