By Mario Ricciardi
Addiction is a terrible process. No doubt there. But before being terrible, it is first and foremost, a process. Addicts rarely go from stand-up citizens to the image of desperation overnight. This simplification is a common misconception and often the route that movies take when depicting the disease.
“Beautiful Boy” differs from those movies by shifting its focus to the journey. Timothée Chalamet plays teenager Nic Sheff, a kid who has nothing but potential, a kid who gives it all away for crystal meth. Before the film goes from A to C, (even though the movie starts off around B), we follow Nic’s father, David, through his own dismal journey to understand what his son is going through and how he can help him.
The film moves slowly through the journey and errs on the conservative side when choosing when to show the darker, gritty moments of Nic’s decline. In fact, the majority of the film is quiet pauses and memories of Nic when he was younger. Through the use of selective storytelling and a nonlinear narrative, the audience is shown just how much downtime there is watching someone you love become an addict.
The biggest take away from “Beautiful Boy” is the film’s ability to contrast how life moves forward regardless of the cycle those struggling with addiction are going through. First, the void, then the experimentation, the dependence, the addiction, the relapse and then the waiting for cycle to repeat itself. While this process can go on and on to the point of mundanity to an observer, the addict’s world ceases to make forward progress. The film should be applauded for taking this approach.
Between Steve Carell’s David Sheff and Chamalet’s Nic Sheff, there isn’t much for the actors to work with on the surface. The film takes the backroad route to get to its point. Much of the acting comprises of quiet contemplation and there are very few (if any) true breaking points for the characters. And, although the film intentionally avoids the stereotypes of other films about addiction, I feel this film misses its opportunity to be truly effective in its message.
Choosing to cut around emotionally charged moments of addiction’s journey hinders the film from performing at maximum capacity. That said, when Carrel and Chalamet get the chance to express the emotions below the surface they do so masterfully.
The film will resonate best with those who are dealing with addiction (someone else’s or their own), but is short-sighted in calling to action those who do not have first-hand experience. The film aptly walks the viewer through addiction, but unfortunately “Beautiful Boy’s” biggest flaw is its inability to take a powerful story and turn it into a call to action. The film touches on all the major marks of addiction, but its focused emphasis on the process falls short of being enough.
🐧🐧🐧 (3/5 Penguins)