David and Nic Sheff, father and son, had each written a detailed account of Nic's ten-year struggle with drugs, primarily methamphetamines, beginning at age eighteen. David, a well-regarded journalist, wrote "Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction" in 2007 and Nic penned "Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines" in 2008. Together they tell the story of BEAUTIFUL BOY, the film, directed by Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen with a brilliant screenplay by him and Oscar-nominated Luke Davis, adapted from these two memoirs.
What causes a good student, involved with interesting school activities, to suddenly go from dabbling with drugs to a full-blown dependency? This question --- and many others --- plague David Sheff (Steve Carell) about his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet). A product of his first marriage to Vicki (Amy Ryan), Nic has always been the light of David's life. This isn't just any father/son relationship, these two share an incredible bond --- and then it is gone.
Now living in Marin County and married to Karen Barbour (Maura Tierney), with whom he shares two children, Jasper and Daisy, David is caught between constantly caring for his drug-addled son and his new family. Instead of going to college as planned, Nic takes off on his own, with long periods in between of not seeing David, Karen and the kids. He's convinced he doesn't have a problem.
Offering to do her share, Vicki, who lives in LA, puts Nic into rehab for the millionth time and he manages to stay sober for 18 months. A celebratory trip north to visit David and his family triggers something in Nic --- and running into an old classmate, Lauren (Kaitlyn Dever), doesn't help. A three-week bender consisting of alcohol, meth and heroine causes Lauren to overdose, leaving Nic alone and bereft.
BEAUTIFUL BOY is a deeply moving, often painful account of Nic's profound struggle, and one of the most illuminating scenes takes place on the phone with Nic begging David to let him come home to be with him and the rest. It's incredibly heartbreaking to hear both sides of that conversation, especially knowing how much it's killing David to say no.
As a parent, I truly cannot imagine the suffering endured by everyone involved in this horrific dependency on mind-altering substances. This certainly isn't only about Nic and his addictions --- the disease he is fighting is relentless --- but also the effects of one child's sickness upon the entire family.
Chalamet, as he proved last year in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, is the consummate thespian. For such a young man, his talent goes way beyond his years. What strikes me the most is his ability to move back and forth from being sober to the throes of addiction. His is a tour-de-force performance, surely garnering him the possibility of another Oscar nom.
But to make BEAUTIFUL BOY successful, Carell had to match Chalamet's intensity --- and he does not fail. Carell has an undeniably strong background in comedy, but his serious roles are defining his career more and more every year. His ability to capture David as the tormented father is remarkable --- showing a range that is impressive.
A film wallowing in the perils of addiction would not be judicious. BEAUTIFUL BOY is not that film. Instead, it is a powerful statement about the love between a father and is son --- a love that cannot be broken no matter the trials and tribulations. The Sheff men have proven that in spades.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
He's at it again. Most actors aren't Oscar-nominated in the early stages of their careers. But at the tender age of 22, this young man may be looking at a second consecutive Academy Awards nod. I'm talking about Timothée Chalamet who was so compelling in last year's CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.
Now he can be seen playing the role of Nic Sheff, the drug-addicted son of David Sheff (Steve Carell), a noted journalist. BEAUTIFUL BOY is based on the two books written separately by both father and son. It's a true story that, while often difficult to watch, is a seamless film about the drastic impact the disease of drug dependency has on family members.
David and Nic have a wonderfully close father-son relationship as Nic is growing up. But when he turns 18, things start to change. He experiments with a variety of mind-altering substances --- pot, cocaine, LSD --- but none of these induce a high like crystal meth. It's a killer drug by which users must continually increase the dosage to match or exceed their previous state of euphoria. Sadly, and most unfortunately, this drug fries the nerves, and, according to the movie, most addicts never recover.
BEAUTIFUL BOY spends a significant amount of time explaining the negatives of crystal meth as David Sheff does his own research via the internet. He is divorced from Vicki (Amy Ryan), Nic's mother, and has re-married Karen (Maura Tierney). She is the mother of two young children with David who happen to adore Nic. The kids don't understand why their big step-brother is away from home so much, including his stints in rehab.
Chalamet is --- pure and simple --- extraordinary, and there's no chance he will not be considered by Academy voters. Nic desperately wants to stop using, but it's more difficult than one can imagine. In one memorable scene, Nic is wandering around in a stupor after shooting up. Chalamet's authenticity is incredible --- and pitiable.
Carell is no longer a surprise in a dramatic role. He has proven over and over how good an actor he is in any role. As David we believe his genuine anguish and guilt, his feeling of helplessness growing, and his inability to heal his beloved beautiful boy.
If you're the parent of a child who has not succumbed to drug abuse, you may be silently thankful as you watch this story unfold. Jeanne and I had that thought separately as we watched BEAUTIFUL BOY.
At one point, as Chalamet's character is addressing a group of fellow addicts, he makes a startling declaration --- that he is looking for something to "fill the black hole" inside him. How very heartbreaking, but equally enlightening as an insight into his recovery.
Opinion: See It Now!