This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 13/10/2018.
Journalist David Sheff and his son Nic exist on opposite ends of a spectrum; at once, they balance out a complete picture while repelling and aggravating each other in equal measure.
Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen adeptly crafts this portrait of the pair from their dual memoirs, charting David’s helpless, floundering spectatorship of Nic’s battle with meth addiction with heart and ample artistic verve.
Beautiful Boy is a frank and straightforwardly mainstream portrayal of addiction, as well as a freeform actualisation of the psychological tumult inflicting two men as the disease transforms and devastates their lives. The expected beats play out competently with enough visual style to engineer the film for mainstream appeal. But those beats are fractured and jumbled, playing out in a stream of consciousness that ebbs back and forth between happier memories and the dark, difficult present.
Supported by a soundtrack comprising the expected space-y soft rock ambiance alongside some appealingly subversive grunge cuts, Beautiful Boy is a proficiently-crafted framework designed to allow its stunning performances to come to the fore. Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan both get their moments to shine as David’s wife and Nic’s mother respectively, while largely floating on the periphery. There’s also a touching cameo from Andre Royo as Nic’s NA sponsor, who has previous experience in addict territory playing The Wire’s Bubbles.
What lifts Beautiful Boy to exceptionalism is its lead pairing. Steve Carell is modestly spellbinding as David, with sparsely distributed blowouts inspiring awe. Timothée Chalamet is jittery and heartbreaking as the spiralling Nic. Both breathe humanistic history and affection into their roles, working with and against each other to uncover the primal, emotional essence of a desperate father and his wayward son.
CAST: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney, Andre Royo
DIRECTOR: Felix Van Groeningen
WRITERS: Luke Davies, Felix Van Groeningen (screenplay), David Sheff, Nic Sheff (based on the books by)
SYNOPSIS: Beautiful Boy chronicles meth addiction and recovery through the eyes of David Sheff (Steve Carell), who watches his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) as he struggles with his addiction.