“Beautiful Boy”

                Yes, the title’s based on the John Lennon song, and Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet) is indeed a beautiful boy---and very messed up.  He’s got an addictive personality, and even as a teenager, the drugs started calling to him.  It’s not that he comes from an abusive home situation.  His Dad, David (Steve Carell) is very supportive, and so is his stepmother, Karen (Maura Tierney).   In fact, he lives with them during the school year, and goes to visit Mom, Vicki (Amy Ryan) in California during the summer.  He also loves his two step-siblings, but of course, they are much younger.  Nic’s a talented artist, interested in creative writing, and appears to be happily college-bound, but somewhere he loses his way.  The drugs get stronger and the use more frequent.  Then comes the lying and the deceit, followed by the thieving (to support the drug habit).  Then it’s rehab.  AA meetings and NA meetings.  Sponsors who mean well but their experiences are not the same, either.  Not bothering with college now, just working some menial job somewhere to develop independence, and then…..falling off the wagon.  You’d think the turning point would be when he almost caused someone else to OD, but no, he hadn’t hit his own rock bottom yet.  It’s a downward spiral we’ve all seen before, and we’ve all felt helpless against its magnetic pull.

                Steve Carrell is utterly believable as the exasperated Dad who tries everything:  unquestioned support, fussing, bargaining, tough love.  “Loaning” money and refusing to loan money.  Trying to turn it over to the ex, Vicki, but of course nothing works there, either.  The truth is, Nic Sheff, like all addicts, has to decide on his own that he’s going to quit.  And after he makes that decision, the really hard part starts:  the constant yearning, the daily struggle to stay sober and functional.  To address what Nic calls “the big black void” inside himself that is the real root cause, from which the drugs were a temporary escape. 

                Young Timothee Chamalet already has an Oscar nomination, and here he gets to display his considerable acting range as the likeable, tragic, shambling, conflicted con artist who can fool everybody except himself.  Director Felix Van Groeningen doesn’t try to oversentimentalize the family bonds, but we acutely feel every betrayal, and every good intention gone sour.  He tries to find a silver lining at the end, but by that time we’re thoroughly beaten down with all the levels of failure.

                No, it’s not much fun.  But it’s powerfully portrayed and memorably presented for the imposing and exhausting conundrum that it is.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association