Beautiful Boy Review
No matter how good or bad the rest of 2018 is for me, its been one of the best years of my life. I say this because my wife and I brought home our first child. I've been told a million times by friends how much my life was about to change, but what I didn't expect was how this change would slowly drift into every facet of my life, including my movie-watching habits. I feel like I watch everything through a brand new filter now, and movies that I've loved for years feel like brand new experiences simply because my daughter is reteaching me life as I know it. It's also really spooky how I am already starting to worry about certain things. Things that are either too early to happen to my daughter or things that are out of my control.
One thing I learned at about one o'clock in the afternoon today was that I have a great fear of failing my daughter. I'm also really scared of her being in tremendous, life-threatening danger, and not being able to help her. Kind of like the situation David Sheff (Steve Carell) finds himself in while he's been struggling with his son, Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet) who has been addicted to drugs throughout his teenage years. David eventually hits a wall, a wall with a sign on it which reads; your son is going to die and there is nothing you can do to save him. Watching out David reacts to this metaphorical wall is the main basis of the brutal, but brilliant "Beautiful Boy."
Any parent or any future parent probably has it deep in the back of their heads that eventually, when their children are older, there is going to be some kind of communication about drugs. I've jokingly said that when my daughter is about 14 or 15, I am going to sit her down in our movie basement and we are going to watch "Requiem For A Dream" together. For anybody who has never seen it, I can guarantee that if you show that to anyone even remotely curious about drug use...well their desire is going to evaporate really quick. My daughter might be in for a double feature instead, we might watch both "Requiem For A Dream" and "Beautiful Boy" together, and I will be mystified if she's even in the same room as a joint when navigates high school and college. Now, "Requiem For A Dream" is a completely unpleasant experience, but when I saw it at an age I was barely able to see it at, I never even thought about putting a drug in my body. That movie is a black hole, with no happy ending. So much so that when I showed it to friends in high school, I ended up depressing the whole houseful.
I wouldn't say "Beautiful Boy" is on the same level of depressing as "Requiem For A Dream," so if you've seen that and didn't like it, you'll probably enjoy "Beautiful Boy" better. Maybe. "Beautiful Boy" is still a harrowing experience, and its a pretty bleak look at a boy so addicted to drugs and it traps him inside a cage. Critics have complained about repetitiveness within the movie. Yes, I get that, Nic relapses quite a bit in the movie. I would argue there is a reason for that, though. We've seen plenty of drug movies, plenty of drug-related films. Its almost become cliche to see an individual hit rock bottom and then rise to the top by meeting the right person or finding God or fate stepping in or what have you. "Beautiful Boy" never quite gives you that out, its more about how Nic's father David is affected. Its about David's obsessive compulsion to save his son, so much to the point that its eating him from the inside like a parasite. The slow realization that falls over David, the realization that he might bury his son instead of his son burying him, is almost too much to take. Not only do we see the effects of Nic's addiction on his father, but we see how it affects everyone in his orbit.
The movie also highlights just how painful an addictive personality has on a person. When Nic starts to fall into the world of drugs, its slow. He starts with pot, and the biggest problem David thinks Nic has is that he just smokes way too much pot. It gets much worse than that. Nic is eventually hooked on all the harder stuff, almost exclusively crystal meth. What makes the film hurt isn't just that we feel every bit of Nic's deterioration, we feel how much of a fight he has to put up just to stay sober over a year. The depression, the self-doubt, the anxiety...its almost as if we are in the head of a real drug user, and since this is a true story based on two memoirs, one written by Nic and the other by David, its even more of a strong experience.
If it were up to me and me alone, you'd see both Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell on the Oscar nomination list this February. Timothee Chalamet is quickly becoming one of the great actors of his generation, dealing out top-notch performances in both "Lady Bird" and "Call Me By Your Name," two of 2017's best films. But those performances aren't going to prepare you for what you see here. Like I said, Chalamet forces you to feel his character's deterioration. The slow fall into becoming an addict is so raw, so hellishly real that its almost unbearable to witness, and that is mainly due to the powerhouse acting on Chalamet's part. This may come as a surprise to most, but Carell is a guy who can do anything. No, your saying to yourselves. Carell is a funny guy. He's the goofy guy from "Anchorman." He's the guy who does the silly voice of Gru in "Despicable Me." He was funny on "The Office." While Carell has been tremendously funny in the past, he's done his fair share of serious acting. Check out "Dan In Real Life" or "Foxcatcher." This is the next great performance to sit next to those.
The film also stars Maura Tierney as David's wife Karen and Amy Ryan plays Nic's biological mother. Both woman love Nic in their own respective ways and the slight heartbreak that occurs to both of them is one of the sad highlights of the movie. I was also delighted to see that Jack Dylan Grazer, who made a huge impression on me last year when he starred as Eddie in "IT," shows up as a young Nic. These quick flashbacks are also harrowing because we see just how hard Nic falls in this movie, and its the hardest punch to the heart to know that addiction can find anyone for any reason. It doesn't specialize in one demographic. Yes, Nic's parents are divorced, but there is still a happy family dynamic even though the house is divided. Nic applies for six colleges and is accepted into all six of them. He's very close with David. David and his ex-wife have both built happy homes for Nic. Sometimes its just bad choices and bad luck that cause people to fall into the world of drugs. Its even harder to realize see how much Nic's parents believed they failed, even though there wasn't much they could really do.
With all that said, "Beautiful Boy" isn't just a depressing wallow. There are moments of inspiration. There are moments of happiness. Director Felix Ban Groeningen was wise enough to put release valves in this movie, to free is audience if only for a moment. Just like Darren Aronofsky did with his movie. "Beautiful Boy" isn't a complete traumatic experience but its not exactly the type of movie you take your buddies to on a Friday night. Given the subject matter, this might not be for everyone. Not everyone wants to see an incredibly tragic look at the world of addiction and the darkness it attracts. But I can say that "Beautiful Boy" will linger with me for many weeks to come and when it comes to movies, it is one of the most powerful experiences I've had all year.
FINAL GRADE: A+