Unlike many films about addiction Beautiful Boy is not about the quest towards being sober, but rather the journey to realizing that addiction has no easy answer.
For David Sheff (Steve Carell) this is a lesson he must learn the hard way. Wanting nothing more than to free his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) from a methamphetamine addiction, David is willing to do whatever it takes. As Nic’s addiction grows worse, it causes a strain on David’s relationship with his current wife Karen (Maura Tiernay), and his ex-wife Vicki (Amy Ryan). Longing for any semblance of the son he used to know, David is forced to come to terms with the fact that addiction is a battle that Nic, and not he, must fight to overcome.
Director Felix Van Groeningen’s latest work presents an intriguing look at the repetitive cycle of drug addiction, and the way it impacts the user and their loved ones in the process. Anchored by strong performances by Carell and Chalamet, the film captures the frustration that both Nic and those trying help him feel at different stages of the process. As Nic’s recovery was a lengthy plight, Groeningen presents a snap shot of a key year in the family’s life in a way that gives an adequate sense of the sprawling nature of addiction.
While the film should be commended for not shying away from the blunt realities of addiction, it is most interesting in the moment where David is learning about what Crystal Meth does to the brain of the user, the emotional moments don’t quite land the way they should. Since the film is an amalgamation of both David and Nic’s individual books of the events, Beautiful Boy never figures out how to tell both sides with equal weight. Primarily conveying David’s point of view and judging by the voiceover that occurs during the credits, in which a passage from Nic’s book is read, the film could have dug much further into the young man’s experiences.
Beautiful Boy also misses the opportunity to expand on the roles of the women in David’s life during this time. Yes, this is primarily a father and son tale, however, Vicki and Karen were central to the experience as well. Both women receive the brunt of David’s frustration while only briefly exerting their own agency in the latter part of the film. Karen’s key scene, in which she chases after a fleeing Nic, feels hollow as one has learned so little about her to that point.
Beautiful Boy’s messages about the nature of addiction is important, however, the film never feels as impactful as it should be.