'Beautiful Boy' film review: Humanizing, heartbreaking portrait of addiction
Heartbreaking and muted, the drama "Beautiful Boy" (opening in additional select cities Oct. 19) is a forthright look at drug addiction and its destructive impact on a family.
This beautifully edited and wonderfully acted story is first and foremost a family drama driven by an addiction-based narrative. The film's father-son relationship is the foundation upon which everything else is built - from Nic's (Chalamet) personal battle with meth addiction to the way Nic's addiction affects every member of his family. But at its core, the narrative is dictated by David's (Carell) unconditional love for his son.
"Beautiful Boy" will absolutely hit parents harder than any other viewers. It taps into the innocent and all-encompassing love a parent has for their child -- rooted in a story where that child grows up to be a homeless junkie. Beautifully composed, evocative flashbacks juxtapose David's memories of his sweet little boy against the grim reality he faces as he tries to help Nic deal with drug addiction.
Chalamet and Carell deserves every accolade come award season. Chalamet's performance establishes Nic as a young man, son, brother and student first - he's not merely defined by his crippling drug dependence. This characterization is critical to the film, as it makes Nic's descent into addiction all the more tragic - humanizing Nic allows the audience to connect to him as a person. Nic's victories are all the more gratifying because he's relatable -- which also makes his addiction that much more frustrating and sad.
The complexity afforded Nic only bolsters Carell's character, who is essentially the audience's avatar on Nic's downward spiral. As David tries to learn more about Nic's addiction, it consumes him and his family - it becomes the family's addiction problem. Carell's weary and earnest performance captures the helplessness of a person trying to fix another person's life. At its core, "Beautiful Boy" explores how far and parent can or should go to save their child. On its face, that thought seems preposterous - however - David becomes as consumed by Nic's addiction as Nic is consumed by crystal meth -- the only difference is David has a wife and other children to consider. Carell is perfectly cast as the emotionally exhausted father desperately trying to save his son - but perhaps at the cost of neglecting the rest of his family.
While David and Nic's relationship is beautifully crafted, some plot points are rushed and some characters thin. Amy Ryan is a glorified cameo, with her character not exuding much dimension. While the film's flashbacks augment the story, the main plot itself lurches through time. It's difficult to gauge how much time has passed in the main plot at any point - which is sort of important because the character's note how long Nic has been clean or using. The movie hurtles inelegantly from plot point to plot point, with each inflection just being a "Nic is clean - but he starts using" (or vice versa) transition.
Final verdict: "Beautiful Boy" is defined by unconditional love amid a relentless struggle, anchored by a fantastic pair of lead performances from Carell and Chalamet. This is a film about accepting thing things you cannot change.
"Beautiful Boy" opens in additional select cities Oct. 19. The docudrama has a running time of 120 hours and is rated R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material.