Beautiful Boy: The Official Stories, by Jeremy Elder
In the pre-production stage of Beautiful Boy, director Felix Van Groeningen seems to have only settled for the absolute best performers available. In a drama revolving around an emotionally-exhausting father/son relationship, the creative team chose one of America’s strongest fatherly actors (Steve Carell), and a young adult superstar Timothee Chalamet. Neither actor gives off the essence of “big Hollywood” casting, nor do they model an over-polished, classically trained style of acting. Both are powerful actors that audiences are ready to support and understand.
The film holds extreme cultural significance, as audiences get to hear multiple voices in the narrative of drug addiction. This perspective was easily gained because the film is a product based on two novels, one by Nic Sheff, a recovering addict, and one by David Sheff, his benevolent father. The appeal of the film is not born out of any unique plot or surprise ending found in the books. At its core, the movie simply portrays a young college student slipping into addiction. We are often shown memories of Steve Carell with a younger Chalamet, and how they really seemed like a perfect family. The story is delivered with such truth and authenticity throughout all actions, and in turn, anyone is able to realize that addiction can happen to even the happiest of families.
What is most unique is that the film does not worry about following typical dramatic plot structures but instead allows reality to serve as a structure. The movie is marked by each of Nic’s relapses and audiences are almost left feeling stuck in the cycle of addiction. Much like Steve Carell, we constantly worry about relapse, and are completely powerless when it happens. With each of Nic’s recoveries, you are left genuinely hoping the movie will be an hour and ten minutes long, just to know that he stays clean. However, as the movie sets out to prove, that is not the case with drug addiction. The movie tactfully guides you through the facts and emotional truths of drug addiction, and in turn offers more warning than any other medium would be able to do.
My review would be amiss if I did not mention the one glaring error made by the creative team, which was casting Amy Ryan as the wife of Steve Carell. Ryan’s performance was moving, but the catharsis of the film is broken when audiences are reminded of Carell’s final season on The Office, where Michael Scott marries Holly Flax, played by Ryan. Those who did not watch The Office will not be fazed but those who have binged the series five-plus times may have some difficulty accepting a strange reality where Holly and Michael get divorced and struggle to raise a meth-addicted college student.
Aside from one error, Beautiful Boy is a gripping and unrelenting exploration of what addiction really is today. Every action is perfectly authentic, and the filmmakers never hold back on any harsh reality that the family has faced. Beautiful Boy constantly pulls you between overwhelming love and acceptance and bitter heartbreak and disappointment. It’s invigorating and agonizing and everyone should experience it.