Typically when drug addiction is at the centre of a feature film it’s the addict themselves that earn prime focus. In the case of Beautiful Boy, it’s the family – specifically Steve Carell’s concerned father – that is at the story’s core as we witness how addiction affects more than just the abuser.
Based on both David Sheff’s memoir “Beautiful Boy” and Nic Sheff’s “Tweak”, the film immediately lets us in on the mind frame of David (Carell), a lauded journalist, as he’s discussing his son’s drug addiction for a potential article. At once concerned and helpless, the film chronicles his relationship with his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) and the varying degrees of rage, disappointment, and ultimate acceptance he experiences when trying to save Nic from his crippling addiction.
The film never glamourises drug use, and writer/director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) has no qualms in making Nic an unlikeable character for much of Beautiful Boy‘s duration. Hollywood all too often tends to layer addicts with an air of charisma and sexuality – even suggesting hardcore drug abuse is “cool” – but here Nic is a mess, and it’s commendable for highlighting so.
As unlikeable as Nic is though, the boyish charm he propels when sober means that we are never against him as a character and, like David, we want to see him get clean, even if we already submit ourselves to the frustrating cycle of rehab-and-relapse that will ultimately take place; Chalamet will surely be a strong contender come award season off this performance with his emotive range and dedication second-to-none in portraying Nic, the film admirably never specifying a reason for his drug use.
Whilst Nic’s own account detailed in much more explicit detail his spiralling addiction – the film’s epilogue informs us that Nic has been sober for the past eight years – Beautiful Boy remains David’s story at the end of the day, but as it stands we still earn enough of an insight into how damaged a person can become.