‘Beau­ti­ful Boy’ dives deep into ad­dic­tion

The Signal - - Food & Entertainment - By Dianne White Craw­ford

‘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.”

‘Mid90s’ (Re­leased)

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.

Photo cour­tesy of Ama­zon Stu­dios

Steve Carell, left, and Ti­mothee Cha­la­met turn in pow­er­ful per­for­mances in “Beau­ti­ful Boy.” The film re­volves around a fam­ily’s strug­gle with ad­dic­tion.

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