Starring Timothée Chalamet. Rated 14A
A father is meeting his son at a café for the first time in months. His son’s been living on the streets, lost in a haze of crystal meth, and he’s a mess who’s trying not to look like a mess—by turns loving, remorseful, angry, petulant, and stoned. The dad is a guy trying to mask his bewilderment and fear; he doesn’t know who he’s talking to anymore.
It’s an incredibly difficult scene to pull off, and it could easily derail into after-school-special territory. But it’s just one of the heart-ripping moments in Beautiful Boy, a testament to the powers of the two actors who tackle this true story of writer David Sheff’s battles with his son Nic’s addictions. (It’s based on memoirs by both of them.)
Steve Carell breaks new ground as the likable but flawed father who comes to realize love isn’t enough to fix the situation. Watch as he slowly moves from hope to anguished self-blame, flashing back to one scene where he smoked a joint with his son and semibragged about his own long-ago drug experiments.
As for Chalamet, who caught everyone’s attention in Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name last year, he’s even more of a revelation here—never overdoing it, whether he’s staggering through a university campus blotto, breaking into his family home for drug money, or, in one brief clean interlude, giddily jumping through a sprinkler with his younger siblings. True to the title, Chalamet instills Nic with an angelic sweetness that is there even in his character’s ugliest moments, a quality that makes you understand why his family will go to any lengths to try to save him.
Don’t expect easy solutions, though. Nic’s ride is full of the relapses that are the reality of meth addiction.
Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen also avoids cliché, giving a dreamlike quality to everything he shoots, especially the woody craftsman house where David’s family lives. He pumps up the soundtrack with the Nirvana, Neil Young, and Sigur Rós that bond David and Nic, and moves fluidly between past and present. When a panicked David drives past dumpsters looking for his teen, the imagery shifts effortlessly back in time to driving his kid to school.
If you’re still young enough to relate to Nic, Beautiful Boy will nail the push-pull of adulthood and the holes that drugs can fill. And if you’re a parent, it will wreck you.