Beautiful Boy

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Beautiful Boy
"The performances are a tribute to a screenplay that avoids the worst indulgences of the urban jungle." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Drug addiction among teenagers comes in multi-coloured boxes. Take your pick. Beautiful Boy is based on books, written by 19-year-old Nic and his dad David from a white middle class sophisticated, intelligent home where this kind of stuff is not supposed to happen. It doesn’t run so smoothly, as you might suspect. Caring Dad, who is a writer of some kind, a journalist who behaves like a columnist, filling in when and however required, divorced from Nic’s mother who stays in LA., and lives with dull down-to-earth Karen (Maura Tierney). Complicated? No. Confusing? Only because of Nic, who has discovered crystal meth and pretends he is still in control.

As a family saga, you watch damage build and wait for the end game. Nic wants the indy vibe on a permanent loop. He knows how to manipulate. Mum is miles way and will do anything to help. Dad is in-house and has taken the boy on as his next project.

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Two things are obvious. David’s single-minded purpose is worse than useless. Only at the end does he discover tough love and act upon it. By that time Nic’s support system is well entrenched. Will the drugs kill him before the dime drops? Why are the grown ups so ground down? Tension remains limp when you want it to sweat blood. David finds every reason to be reasonable. Mum wants to share. Karen wonders what she’s doing in that house. Nic talks in circles. He’s communicating, the others think, and that’s good. Isn’t it?

Steve Carell, better known for Anchorman, The Office, The 40 Year Old Virgin and the voice of Gru in Despicable Me, cannot be faulted (as David) and Timothée Chalamet who was so memorable as the love object of a predatory man in Call Me By Your Name captures the confusion and determination of Nic perfectly. The performances are a tribute to a screenplay that avoids the worst indulgences of the urban jungle.

If the subject matter is of the moment, the setting has SAFETY written into its DNA and even though David tries his best to do the right thing he cannot help but to allow parental understanding to intervene. Nic pleads for money. You know who’s going to win. The beautiful boy must be allowed to remain beautiful. David is weak like that and by the time he toughens up it may be too late.

If there is a message it is a sad one. The boy is so full of promise why let the magic poison affect him? “Love conquers all” someone wrote in the baby book. What does that mean? Independance, individuality, the freedom to choose destruction? “I’m with you,” Dad says. What does that mean?

The film is full of questions as Nic sails into the silver dark.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2019
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A father tries to help his son break his cycle of drug addiction.
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Amber Wilkinson **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

Festivals:

SSFF 2018
London 2018

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