Review of Felix Van Groeningen’s “Beautiful Boy”: Too beautiful for its own good.

“Beautiful Boy” is based on two biographies by father and son David and Nick Sheff. David Sheff’s book “Beautiful Boy” underpins the movie, in which a father, played by Steve Carell, struggles to connect with his meth-addicted son, played by wonderboy Timothée Chalamet. Nick Sheff’s autobiography “Tweak” adds a first-person perspective to the harrowing distress of meth-addiction. The script is written by Luke Davies and Van Groeningen, and the film is set in a crucial time in Americas drug-narrative – during the 2000s opioid epidemic. It serves both as a story of how addiction is handled by a victim and his family, but also how it is treated by a community.

Timothée Chalamet is unsurprisingly good as Nick Sheff, giving the part both vulnerability and likability. As the film that made his name, last year’s “Call Me By Your Name”, also proves, Chalamet is the ultimate on-screen male ingénue. It will, however, be interesting to see if he can play anything but himself, first in the Netflix version of “Henry V”, and then in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake. He is a James Dean for the 21st century, but instead of Dean’s bad boy-ruggedness, Chalamet oozes boyish charm – even a meth addiction can’t make you fall out of love with him.

You have to have an especially low tempered heart to not be moved by this story. Even though Chalamet is indeed a beautiful boy, he could be your neighbour, friend or old classmate. There is something very approachable and relatable about Nick, despite his talent for lying and manipulating those around him. The core of the film is Nick’s relationship with his father, and Carell fully embraces his natural “dadness”. One can’t help to empathize with the father’s hopelessness and desperate attempts to understand what this drug does to his son and why he is so utterly addicted to it.

Groeningen makes a good attempt at using the film’s narrative to mirror the narrative of a drug addict. The turbulent structure of the film, emulating the confusion and distress of addiction, is highly beneficial to the plot. There are no three acts, no climax, simply a chronicle of every distressing and unpredictable aspect of addiction. The endless circle of recovery and relapse is believable in its chaos, but not in its mildness. The film does not include the most shocking aspects of either father’s nor son’s book and never manages to paint a true picture of how dark addiction often is.

Rather than giving us the trembling and heartbreaking narrative of Nick’s battle with himself and his father’s desperate attempts to help his son, Groeningen decides to Hollywoodize the emotional aspects of the story. Therefore you are left with a film that swims on the surface of a sparkling, turquoise pool of desperate addiction, rather than drowning in it. The audience is hardly ever in the dark deep, with bursting lungs, being denied to come up for air. Instead of being the story’s reward, the glimmering, turquoise surface is its default.

The cinematography by Ruben Impens drapes the film in bold colours, beautiful scenery and a Hollywood feel-good mood. When dealing with drug addiction amongst teenagers, the overly flattering colours and scenic drama become excessive, moving the viewer’s attention away from the issue at hand. The movie becomes somewhat “public service”, spoon-feeding us a tranquillized version of what addiction is really like. In the film, Nick states that meth makes his life go from black and white to technicolour, and that is what Groeningen has done to the film. But while technicolour is pleasant to watch, it’s in the black and white that the painful reality lies.

Beautiful Boy opens this weekend. 

0 comments