Beautiful Boy


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Beautiful Boy
"Because he starts from a place of quite high emotion in terms of the cues, Groenigen and his collaborators have to give us increasingly bigger 'fixes' in a bid to generate additional empathy." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Director Felix van Groenigen's last film, Belgica, focused on hedonism, the bonds of family and control, themes that are also present in his English language debut, which had its European premiere in San Sebastian. Based on the books Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by journalist David Sheff and Tweak, by his son Nic, it follows the story of Nic's addiction to drugs as a teenager - most specifically crystal meth - and his father's repeated attempts to help him get clean.

Adapted for the screen by Luke Davies and Groenigen, they explore how the domestic setting is increasingly disrupted by Nic's behaviour and his father's growing desperation as he tries to help while maintaining an even keel for his second wife and younger children.

Copy picture

Steve Carell's attitude is as casual as the jeans and shirts David wears, a naturalism that helps create an intensity of emotion without slipping into melodrama, while Timothée Chalamet also carefully calibrates the ups and downs of addiction, although you might argue he remains rather too 'beautiful' throughout considering the amount of substances Nic was using. Together they have an energy that feels as though it has grown up over years along with a language shorthand for love that often develops in family - and the child incarnations of Nic, Kue Lawrence and Jack Dylan Grazer, are both well cast.

But despite the strong performances, the film has problems.The female roles - including Maura Tierney as David's second wife Karen and Amy Ryan as his first wife Vicki - are, presumably deliberately, spartan, in order to emphasise the fact that father and son are so focused on one another that other people are little more than a distraction. The character of Nic's girlfriend Lauren (Kaitlyn Dever) is underwritten, however, asking us to believe that she would do things that seem highly unlikely under the circumstances because the film hasn't taken time to sufficiently establish their relationship.

Worse, is van Groenigen's own addiction - to music. While his debut Broken Circle Breakdown let the soundtrack reside at the heart of the film and Belgica also had a raft of songs specifically crafted for it, here the cues are laid on with a trowel. While its possible to believe that David partially fuelled Nic's love of Seventies hits from David Bowie and Neil Young, songs seem to crop up as vocal illustrations of the mood we're supposed to be feeling. Because he starts from a place of quite high emotion in terms of the cues, Groenigen and his collaborators have to give us increasingly bigger 'fixes' in a bid to generate additional empathy, so Bowie becomes a gateway drug to Perry Como's Sunrise, Sunset and, before the end, we find ourselves overdosing in full choral mode but, like Nic, we've grown so used to the sentiment, we just don't get any emotional hit.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2018
Share this with others on...
Beautiful Boy packshot
A father tries to help his son break his cycle of drug addiction.
Amazon link

Read more Beautiful Boy reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Writer: Luke Davies, Felix Van Groeningen, David Sheff, Nic Sheff

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Christian Convery, Oakley Bull, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Ryan, Stefanie Scott, Julian Works, Kue Lawrence, Jack Dylan Grazer, Ricky Low, Marypat Farrell, Amy Forsyth, Andre Royo

Year: 2018

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: US


SSFF 2018
London 2018

Search database: