Beautiful Boy is visually stunning but is lacking in clarity. The story, based on the memoirs of David and Nic Sheff, tackles the issue of drug addiction and how this disease consumes the life of a user and their family. Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) lives with his doting father (Steve Carell) and step-mother (Maura Tierney) in the idyllic Marin County, California. His home life is near perfect as he adores his father, step-mother, and two half-siblings. However, their lives are disturbed by his methamphetamine addiction.
The film flips between time periods showing the contrast between an adorable young boy and a drug-addicted, suffering eighteen-year-old. It depicts a father’s confusion as to where he lost the closeness with his son as all the flashbacks suggest a very strong father-son bond. A particularly poignant flashback entails David Sheff singing his son to sleep with John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy.’ Despite this scene being heart-warming, we are left feeling bemused as to how this adorable child could fall victim to addiction. In this way we are as in the dark as the father. This is the overriding message of the film: anyone can turn to drugs. Perhaps Nic’s descent from loving child to despairing addict could have been made much more prominent. This shift just seemed to happen, which did not feel particularly realistic. Furthermore, the non-linear structure of the film made it difficult to follow. With a multitude of flashbacks, the viewer has to really concentrate, which lessens the emotional impact.
The most emotive sequence in the film comes in the second half when Nic and his girlfriend break into his father’s home. When the rest of his family return, they flee. David’s new wife decides to go after the young couple, locking her two children indoors. The tiny, curly blonde-haired children, with their backs to the audience, look out into an expansive forest, while the sunlight pours in, as both their parents are concerned with their older brother. They are innocents who have been neglected. This is hard to watch because the love all of these characters have for Nic is destructive. It is also a brilliant scene which manages to intertwine the storyline and the beautiful scenery together, something done very well in this film.
The sunny Californian landscape, reminiscent of a David Hockney painting, is the perfect back-drop for the film. Long shots of romantic beaches, cliffs, and forests show the beauty surrounding the Sheff family. This perfect existence is juxtaposed with scenes of Nic visiting bustling San Francisco, with its neon-signs and bars, in search of drugs. The motif of an engulfing city versus nurturing countryside is very effective.
Felix Van Groeningen’s film successfully raises awareness of the problem of drugs in the United States. It is understandably not an easy watch, but this is a testament to the acting. Carell and Chalamet are very believable; Maura Tierney is also incredibly good, despite not many critics mentioning her performance. This said, it would have been more powerful and understandable if there were less unnecessary flashbacks detracting from an amazing story.
Image Credit: Elena Ringo via Wikimedia Commons