Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
An overly worthy and Oscar-bothering piece,
A disappointing treatment of the best-selling memoirs of father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy aims to showcase the strength of the familial bond in the face of an overwhelming drug addiction. But rather than allowing the audience to work this out for itself, it is constantly shouted at how the love of father and son is unbreakable. An overly worthy and Oscar-bothering piece, the film features two powerful performances from leads Carell and Chalamet, but ultimately doesn’t know what to do with them.
There is a lack of clarity and resolution. It is concerned with drug addiction after all, an aspect of life not known for its focus or drive – and screenplay adapter, Australian Luke Davies (Lion) should know, as his own biographic script for Candy illustrates. But in the case of Beautiful Boy, it too often goes on a repeat of score drugs, get wasted, go into expensive rehab, go on the run, dad brings son home. And then repeat. Again and again.
The movie struggles to make enough of an emotional impact, which is undoubtedly its biggest failing. The tone is either bored and aloof or angry and dejected; the outright pain and sadness of losing a loved one to drugs is barely touched upon.
There is an overriding sense that this is a story not particularly well suited to the big screen. The revelations and personal thoughts might well inspire in written form, but as a cinema outing there is not the structure, or the detail needed to make it either entertaining or particularly informative.
It’s true that statistics are quoted about the disease of addiction during rehab scenes and at the conclusion, but these feel like facts thrown to a lecture theatre audience. And this overly solemn lecturing tone surrounds the whole film, making the experience more like a badly thought out social education lesson than a movie with emotional depth and structure.
Musically, the film often resembles an MTV docu-drama of sorts, with the soundtrack providing hints to father and son’s past memories. This is understandable, as music often holds the key to unlocking all sorts of forgotten dreams and nightmares. But in this case the slickness of one song going on to the next as a kind of intense playlist just feels forced.
Carell brings a guilt-ridden anguish to his role of beleaguered and hyper stressed dad. In Sheff’s attempts to understand his son’s malaise and addiction he even goes onto the street himself to score crystal meth. He ends up experimenting with the drug home alone, a scene that plays out as being weird more than anything else. The actor brings a detachment and cold anger to detail his experience of his son’s plight, but it rarely engages. Chalamet fares better, perfectly summing up the limbo of getting well and getting sick and manipulating everyone around in between.
The film goes for big emotional hits, but ends up providing more of a limp hangover. A shame then, as the two leads give everything they’ve got to the film, but are hamstrung by odd directorial and writing decisions.