Beautiful Boy is the first English-language film with an all-American cast by 40 year old Belgian filmmaker, Felix Van Groeningen. Van Groeningen claims that he had no choice but to make Beautiful Boy. ‘I had to, I couldn’t not make it. I tried to pass on it, but it kept coming back. It was meant to be’, he said in a recent interview.
Based On A True Story
Beautiful Boy explores the complex relationship between fathers and sons. It was adapted by Groeningen from the two bestselling memoirs by San Francisco journalist David Sheff (author of Beautiful Boy) and his oldest son, Nic Sheff (author of Tweak).
The film combines both books and offers a perspective from both the inside and outside of the downward spiral of addiction. It covers 20 years of David and Nic’s life and the audience gets to live alongside their hellish decent into addiction through flashbacks placed throughout the film.
We see Nic transform from an innocent sweet child to an angsty drug addict, since it’s the only thing that helps him ‘see in technicolor instead of just plain black and white’.
More importantly, we experience the anguish and helplessness David feels at not being able to stop his son from becoming a drug addict in society and his guilt at not preventing his imminent demise. The movie is brave in the way it portrays a father’s impossible decision, as David accepts that none of this is his fault. That even though he may be flawed and imperfect, he isn’t to be blamed for any of this. It happened because it happened and if he loves his son he needs to learn to let him go.
Performance By The Cast
Steve Carell (David) and Timothée Chalamet (Nic) play the two main leads in the film and are a force to be reckoned with from the first scene till the last.
Chalamet was cast as Nic long before his 2017 roles in ‘Ladybird’ and ‘Call Me By Your Name’. He spent time with the real Nic, visited rehab centers and kept an addiction counselor on set to keep his depiction honest and authentic. Moving past he cliches of the movie drug addict he is able to find tortured depths beneath Nic’s twitchy, slurring exterior. According to Groeningen, Chalamet’s interpretation drove the film’s depiction of Nic as an addict who actually wants to get clean but cannot. Chalamet’s character is kept at a distance from the audience as David Sheff’s son becomes a mystery to him because of the drugs. This in turn makes him a mystery for the audience, an obstacle for Chalamet which he ends up overcoming. His portrayal as Nic is a complete 180 from his role as Elio in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and proves his versatility and skill as an actor.
However, Carell’s David is not to be overshadowed. At first baffled and eager to cure his son he dives deep into research and reporting on meth, its effects on the brain and how to deal with it but soon realizes his incompetence to help his son. The last harrowing scenes prove that Carell can evoke emotion even from the hardest of souls and that he is indeed deserving of an Oscar.
Drug Addiction: A Prominent Theme
Beautiful Boy takes a look at how drug addiction has become an epidemic in American suburbia. Infiltrating unsuspecting homes so that it can no longer be ignored. The film is less about the train-wreck of hardcore addiction and more about the fragility of sobriety. The long and brutal road to recovery faced by both addicts and their loved ones.
Since addiction has been a real-life concern for Groeningen, he is able to bring stunning sensitivity and compassion into his portrayal of Nic. Before the end credits role Van Groeningen flashes grim statistics on screen about the opioid epidemic in America and a statement about it, placing the film squarely in conversation with the ongoing crisis.
According to Van Groeningen the social and political mission of the film ‘is to help viewers see addicts as human, and to show addicts and their families that they’re not alone’.
Reception By Critics
Beautiful Boy is deservedly garnering Oscar buzz after its premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Van Groeningen also recently received the “Aspen Film’s Independent By Nature Award”for Beautiful Boy at the Aspen Filmfest this year.
However, not all critics are won over yet. According to BBC Culture’s Caryn James, ‘Beautiful Boy is “Oscar bait” and that term is not a compliment’. Most critics seem to share that view since they perceive the film to be an obvious ploy for the Oscars and it is well known that Steve Carell has been trying to win one for ages.
Critics also argue that Beautiful Boy lacks ’emotional electricity’. With some scenes cut out of the movie (such as Nic prostituting himself for drug money) it seems to lack the essential ‘street grunge factor’ that makes the depiction all too real.
Groeningen’s Future Plans
Beautiful Boy might just be Van Groeningen’s next big success, after the international attention his Oscar breakthrough The Broken Circle Breakdown garnered five years ago.
When asked by the media about his intentions for the future, he said he doesn’t know what his next film project will be. He claimed that he doesn’t make ‘long-term creative plans and he’s not married to the idea of making English-language films with American actors’.
When Can You Watch Beautiful Boy
Audiences in America can watch the 1 hour 52 minutes long film on the 12th of October nationwide.