‘Beautiful Boy’ dives deep into addiction
‘Beautiful Boy’ (Released)
There is absolutely nothing that compares to being a parent. Sorry, pet lovers, it’s not even close. And I'm not referring to the romantic notion of having one's DNA live on as legacy. Rather, nothing compares to the weight of never-a-break responsibility felt in keeping a helpless newborn alive and properly nourished. And later, teaching the right life lessons so that it’s not your kid who bullies others in school, or steals, or damages the property of others. Someone’s kid is going to do those things, and most of us try our darndest to prevent it from being our kid. The reality is, that even the most attentive and best-intentioned parents can sometimes fall victim to a force beyond their control. Such is the situation in writer-director Felix Van Groeningen's film based on the two memoirs penned by father and son David and Nic Sheff.
We open on David (Steve Carell) disclosing to a physician (Timothy Hutton) that his son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) is addicted to crystal meth, and asking two questions: 1. What is it doing to him? 2. What can I do to help him? The quiet desperation and pain is plainly evident on David's face. We know immediately that this Steve Carell movie won't be packed with laughs.
What follows is the harsh reality of drug addiction. Rehab, relapse, repeat. Much of the story is dedicated to David's struggle and devotion to helping his son Nic in any way possible. He's a helpless father who refuses to give up on his son, despite the constant desperation and frustration. Every glimmer of hope is soon crushed by yet another lie and more drugs. The film is such a downer that it makes “Leaving Las Vegas” look like an old Disney classic.
Bouncing between timelines is a device that works for many stories, but here it seems to take away some of the poignancy and depth of some scenes.
Just as we are being absorbed into a crucial moment, the film often breaks away to an earlier or later time. This is effective in getting the point across about the never-ending struggles, but we lose momentum in particular segments.
Supporting work comes courtesy of four talented actresses: Amy Ryan (as Nic's mother and David's ex-wife), Maura Tierney (as David's current wife), Kaitlyn Dever (Nic's girlfriend), and LisaGay Hamilton (involved in rehab). The reason this film works is the devastating work of two fine actors — Carell and Chalamet. We never doubt dad's commitment, just as we never doubt son's helplessness in getting clean.
The soundtrack acts as a boost to the dialogue with such songs (perhaps a bit too convenient and obvious) as John Lennon's “Beautiful Boy,” Neil Young's “Heart of Gold” and Perry Como's “Sunrise, Sunset.” The downward spiral of drug addiction feeds on the misery, and we certainly get that. The inherent lesson here is that we can't always save people from themselves. Knowing what to do isn’t always possible, and sometimes there is simply no right answer ... even with “Everything.”
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut takes us back to the middle of the 1990s with a look at life for one teenager’s summer in L.A. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives with his older, abusive brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and single mom, Dabney (Katherine Waterston). Stevie’s world opens up when he discovers a skate shop. It’s soon thereafter that the teenager meets a new crop of friends. Among them are Ruben (Gio Galicia), Ray (Na-kel Smith), wannabe filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), and an ever-so-vulgar skater with an even vulgar name (Olan Prenatt). While I realize that the film takes place during the mid-90s, the frequent use of slurs seem to be a bit too much. It’s not only that but you have someone like Ruben telling Stevie that saying “thank you” means you’re gay. Ruben was likely the source of the film’s many slurs. Most of which were homophobic in nature. I’m sorry but it’s one thing if you want to use a few of them to set the tone. It’s a whole different animal if you want to make a full film out of this. Sure, another skater, Ray, tells Stevie that Ruben is wrong but it’s all a bit much for my tastes. With the way that Hill writes the film, Ray becomes a character that becomes “wise” for the sake of the film. Seriously, Jonah? What the heck were you even thinking?!?
If this wasn’t troublesome enough, Stevie finds himself alone at a party with a girl. She is 16 to his 12. This kid was actually 10 when he filmed this. She invites him into a bedroom at the party and makes out with him. There’s more than that, too. Wish-fulfillment fantasy, maybe? But like with the mother, the women in this film are so horribly written that it’s just not funny. And where were this young man’s parents, real parents? You don’t see the sex act, however, he is pretty graphic when he shows off to his friends later. He also does drugs and smokes. The film stays true to the era in which it represents as far as the sound is concerned. It may be one of the few positive things I say about the movie.
I’m a fan of Jonah Hill’s acting work, so I went into this wanting to like the film. It didn’t take long while sitting in the theater before realizing that it would not be a pleasant experience. Try going through elementary and middle school — when the film takes place — while constantly being teased with the F-word. I get that Hill is trying to depict this skater life in L.A. but it doesn’t make these words any less hurtful. It won’t be for everyone. If you don’t like watching films with racism, sexism and homophobia, it’s best to pass.
Steve Carell, left, and Timothee Chalamet turn in powerful performances in “Beautiful Boy.” The film revolves around a family’s struggle with addiction.