Addiction is a hell of a thing. The allure of a high draws people into its sweet grasp, and once they are hooked the addiction will never let them go. It is a sick disease that people are still trying to understand. Why would someone put themselves and their families through this for a feeling that is gone almost instantly? Drug use is something that has been romanticised by Hollywood for decades, so that allure won’t be going away anytime soon. Seldom do we see the stories of the path of destruction an addict can leave in his wake pursuing his next high. Beautiful Boy is an incredibly powerful that shows just how destructive addiction is not only to the addict, but to everyone around him.
Based on both David and Nic Scheff’s memoirs Beaautiful Boy tells the story of a family’s heartbreaking experience with addiction, relapse, and recover throughout the years.
Directed by Felix van Groeningen the film follows the story of David and Nic Scheff, a father and son trying to understand and combat the son’s addiction to methamphetamine. The story unfolds through a non-linear structure, jumping from year to year over Nic’s life. The film opens with David sitting down with a doctor after knowing his son has been addicted to drugs for a year, trying to get a better understanding of what he can do for his son. Cut to a year prior at the Sheff’s home where Nic has been missing for two days and David has no idea where he is. When he finally shows up, he heads straight for his room to sleep in the middle of the day. This is the first time we see Nic on screen, and establishes just how alien his character can seem from scene to scene.
The film feels like a fleeting memory. A scene where David and Nic are coming to a head about his addiction will have a flashback from Nic’s childhood dropped into it before something truly gut wrenching unfolds. This effectively highlights two things; just how different Nic can behave when he’s on drugs and David’s unconditional love for his son. No matter what happens they are father and son, and the film does an excellent job at portraying their closeness despite how strained their relationship gets at times.
Beautiful Boy is one of the most honest portrayals of addiction on screen. One of the common assumptions of addiction is that an addict will turn to drugs when they are feeling down and looking to feel better. There are sequences in the film where everything is perfect; Nic is sober, the family is all together and going on trips without a care in the world. Suddenly, Nic will fall right back into the pit of his addiction and everything will start all over. This is a grim reality of addiction the films nails. Everything can be perfectly fine when an addict succumbs again, through no fault of anyone around him. The desire to get high is always there, as random as a relapse can seem.
Felix van Groeningen has constructed a stellar film. Having been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film prior, this film marks his English Language debut. He is able to craft a story here that incapsulates the comfort of family contrasted with the heavy strain addiction places on the family. The cast is by far and away the best thing about the film. Steve Carrel and Timothee Chamlamet are pretty much guaranteed Oscar nominations for their performances here. Although Carrel rose to fame with comedic roles like The Office and The 40 Year Old Virgin, he has proved time and time again that he is a dramatic actor to be taken seriously. He inhabits the role of David Sheff perfectly, a broken hearted father who desperately wants to help his son in the most trying time of his life despite how impossible it may seem. Chalamet proves once again what earned him an Oscar nomination for his breakout performance in last year’s Call Me By Your Name. Chalamet emotes so much with his face that any complex emotion associated with the turmoil of addiction is drenched throughout every scene. An addict isn’t himself when he’s using, and Chalamet effortlessly jumps from these differing personalities like the professional he is.
Addiction is still far from being completely understood. It goes hand in hand with mental illness and disease. Drug use will continually be glamorized and people will try desperately to find ways to make their lives better. The awesome part about this story is that it is not unique to just the Sheff’s. So many families go through these exact circumstances without a clue of what to do. So many lives are lost and people are left wondering what they could have done to stop. Beautiful Boy may be one of the more important films in recent years given its honest portrayal of addiction. My hope for this film is that anyone who sees understands the horrors of addiction a little bit better, and that anyone who goes through this is not alone.
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