Film review: ‘BEAUTIFUL BOY’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Based on the combined biographies of author Nic Sheff and his father David, Beautiful Boy potently depicts Nick’s descent into methamphetamine addiction.

Rising star Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Ladybird) plays Nic, an intelligent aspiring writer who, as a teenager, is still trying to come to terms with his father David’s (Steve Carell) break-up with his mother Vicki (Amy Ryan). After experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, he graduates to heroin and ice which sees him not only squander his academic potential but eventually descend into crime and prostitution which, not surprisingly, tears his family apart. Desperate to find an answer, David rigorously researches the biochemical bases of his son’s addiction but his efforts to help Nick are thwarted by his son’s constant relapses and increasingly self-destructive behaviour.

Numerous films have explored teen drug addiction, including Go Ask Alice, Christiane F and many so-called ‘after school specials’. Despite its familiar storyline, this film is particularly affecting due to fine performances from its excellent cast. Chalamet’s Nic is at first infuriating as an apparently selfish teen wasting his talents and his privileged life but eventually becomes a moving and sympathetic figure as the tragedy of his addiction becomes apparent.

Steve Carell again shows he can be convincing in a dramatic role as he captures the desperation and anger of someone watching a loved-one destroy themselves. At first, it’s a little odd to see Amy Ryan playing his estranged wife Vicki as she was Steve Carell’s love interest Holly in TV show The Office. In a limited role, however, she delivers a touching performance. While it’s not the point of the film, it would have been interesting to further explore the parents’ careers as both are prominent journalists, David Sheff having interviewed Carl Sagan, Frank Zappa, Steve Jobs and John Lennon and Vicki having interviewed Dennis Hopper and Eddie Van Halen among others.

As a film about a spiral into drug addiction it can at times be frustrating and dispiriting and as a result of Nick’s relapses a little repetitive. Some may be relieved to know, however, that it’s not as gruelling a depiction of drug use as Christiane F let alone a film like Requiem For A Dream. Impressively, director Felix van Groeningen manages to prevent it from becoming too much of a wallow in misery and infuses the film with tension and pathos. He also makes particularly good use of music with tracks from Nirvana, Sigur Ros, David Bowie and Tim Buckley that don’t just sit in the background but enhance the rhythm and mood of the scene.

Music aside, this is not exactly what we might term an entertaining film but given the global scourge of opioid and amphetamine addiction and it’s insidious and destructive impact on individuals and their families, it’s an important one.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Biopic/ family drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Felix van Groeningen.

Release date: 1st Nov 2018.

Running time: 120 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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