Moving portrait of addiction epidemic victim in Beautiful Boy
18 January, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy
Directed by Felix van Groeningen
THE epidemic of crystal meth abuse in America has reached the point where it has become so ingrained that it has now spawned a cultural response, through the likes of the TV series Breaking Bad.
It is comparable now to the crack cocaine crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. When the highly addictive street drugs that makes users tense and paranoid reached saturation point on inner city streets, we saw films such as New Jack City and Menace II Society emerge to offer comment. The same is happening today with crystal meth – and this film is a direct product of it.
Beautiful Boy tells the story of a father/son relationship, of growing up, and of the pain caused when someone becomes addicted to a substance that causes permanent warfare within them.
Steve Carell, who plays father David Sheff, earned early fame as a comic but has shown his versatility with stand-out performances in films such as The Big Short and Foxcatcher.
Here, his worried father shtick is heartfelt, non-judgemental, never hysterical and a thoroughly believable performance. His approach to caring for his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) prompts plenty of questions over the evolution of the parent/child relationship.
Director van Groeningen also creates added poignancy with a non-chronological approach, so we are treated to plenty of heart-wrenching moments from Nic’s childhood, with a father wrestling over whether he can identify a moment where things went wrong, or a time when he should have done something differently, or said something else…
We follow the relationship, including the input of peripheral characters of mum, step mum and siblings, and the friction is intensified as Nic begins experimenting with drugs.
We watch as he moves on from recreational enjoyment of substances to taking things that are more addictive and physically dangerous.
Thankfully, there is no preaching. There is no discussion of whether cannabis is a gateway, no ridiculous war on drugs approach nor blaming. Instead, it creates two talking points: addiction and how you deal with it, and the effect the lust in one person for getting mashed up has on those around them.
This story matters. Drug abuse is the biggest killer in the USA of people under the age of 50.
But it is more than that – it is, at its heart, about the love you feel as a parent towards a child.
The 19th-century political philosopher Bagehot said of Queen Victoria that her role as a constitutional monarch was to “advise, to encourage and to warn”. This film suggests the same can be said of parents’ relationship to their offspring, with the addition of “love unconditionally.”