Act­ing in ‘Beau­ti­ful Boy’ helps film rise above flaws

Drug ad­dic­tion’s ef­fects are painfully on view

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Brian Truitt

The ef­fects of drug ad­dic­tion on a fam­ily are blis­ter­ingly, emo­tion­ally raw in the drama “Beau­ti­ful Boy,” with ex­cep­tional per­for­mances from Steve Carell and Ti­mothee Cha­la­met, who make a fa­ther and son’s strug­gles feel all too real. “Beau­ti­ful Boy” rated R; in the­aters Fri­day in New York and Los An­ge­les; ex­pands through Oc­to­ber, goes na­tion­wide Nov. 9) tracks the down­ward spi­ral of a teenage boy’s ad­dic­tion to meth, the vi­cious cy­cle of re­cov­ery and re­lapse, yet also the hope and love wait­ing on the other side. While the some­times con­fus­ing non-lin­ear nar­ra­tive keeps the whole pack­age from com­ing to­gether, the firstrate act­ing more than makes up for it in the film based on the true ex­pe­ri­ences of David and Nic Sh­eff. Nic (Cha­la­met) is a San Fran­cisco kid who’s go­ing places, ac­cepted to col­leges and sur­rounded by his lov­ing jour­nal­ist dad David (Carell) and sup­port­ive step­mom Karen (Maura Tier­ney). On the sur­face, he’s happy-golucky, but in­side there’s emo­tional tur­moil and pain, which is stymied by do­ing drugs that “take the edge off stupid ev­ery­day re­al­ity.” Smok­ing joints with his dad turns into ex­per­i­ment­ing with other drugs, though it’s meth that leads Nic down a road where he dis­ap­pears for days at a time and a cook­ing spoon puts his fu­ture on hold. Di­rec­tor Felix Van Groenin­gen uses flash­backs of Nic as a kid – and even his ear­lier teenage years – to track the close­ness of fa­ther and son, from shared mu­si­cal tastes to a love of surf­ing. How­ever, the sto­ry­telling choices leave the au­di­ence some­times won­der­ing where the char­ac­ters are in the plot – for ex­am­ple, is Nic in school or not? The vary­ing de­gree of gray hair in Carell’s beard usu­ally as­sists but not all the time, and the ef­fect is an un­for­tu­nate un­der­min­ing of the film’s im­pres­sively hon­est and au­then­tic nar­ra­tive. For Cha­la­met, “Beau­ti­ful Boy” is a wor­thy fol­low-up to his Os­car-nom­i­nated break­through in last year’s “Call Me By Your Name.” He gives Nic thought­ful com­plex­ity while nav­i­gat­ing the dan­gers and ex­treme pull of ad­dic­tion. Carell’s dra­matic chops (see: “Fox­catcher”) are about as strong as his well-known comedic ones, though he’s never been this re­lat­able. Much of the movie un­folds from David’s point of view, and you feel ev­ery bit of ex­as­per­a­tion and hurt but also undy­ing ado­ra­tion for his boy. “Beau­ti­ful Boy” will un­doubt­edly con­nect for those deal­ing with ad­dic­tion or the na­tion’s opi­oid epi­demic. But it also speaks to par­ents feel­ing out of con­trol when it comes to their chil­dren and the sac­ri­fices made to be there by their side, no mat­ter what.

FRAN­COIS DUHAMEL

Nic Sh­eff (Ti­mothée Cha­la­met) hugs step­mom Karen (Maura Tier­ney) in “Beau­ti­ful Boy.”

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