The Rewind: "Beautiful Boy" Review
Beautiful Boy creates a world for the audience: a hard, sometimes cracking-at-the-seams-world that makes you squirm in discomfort; a world filled with contradictions where you can trust yet distrust someone at the same time; a world of intensely happy familial moments that uplift you and even manage to crack a smile across your face; a world that you never want to leave.
The true story revolves around father and son David and Nic Sheff, natives of the gorgeous rolling hills outside of the San Francisco Bay area. Throughout the film, the Sheff family learns how to deal with Nic’s worsening drug habit. What began as occasional marijuana smoking ultimately led to a lifelong struggle against a meth addiction. With a timeline director, Christopher Nolan would be proud of, the movie plays like an out-of-order sequence of memories, which makes sense since the film used memoirs written by David and Nic (“Beautiful Boy” and “Tweak”) as its basis.
Typically, movies about a human struggle tend to focus on only one of the afflicted parties. This movie, takes a different spin by switching off between parent and child so the audience can grasp how the disease affects both of them equally. The dual-protagonist style draws connections that one would never think to even sketch. During one apparent flashback, David, played by Steve Carell, and four-year-old Nic sit at a quaint and cozy café speaking Klingon any Trekkie would cringe at. The next scene flips back to present day where Carell now waits for 18-year-old Nic, played by Timotheé Chalamet, to join him for lunch at that same café. The whole meal goes awry when Nic hounds his father for not giving him 300 dollars and proceeds to leave abruptly. In this instance, we see more of David’s point of view as the frustrated father desperately trying to figure out what went wrong and how to get back to where his relationship with his son previously stood.
Chronicling months of sobriety to moments of relapse, to days of sobriety to weeks of relapse, to instances of sobriety to years of relapse, the film infuriates viewers because of its cyclic nature. This nature infuriated me, at least, until I realized I felt as trapped as the characters in the movie. I felt like, by the end of the film, I had actually made it through something tumultuous, and I just watched the movie. David and Nic and thousands of others live the movie.
The film never explicitly discusses why Nic started using marijuana, cocaine, meth, and more; the reasons behind his addiction remain open to the audience’s interpretation of his situation and life in general. More often than not, we assume people become addicted to drugs because they either felt depressed or made a stupid mistake. This movie, however, allows viewers to make a more complex deduction from the situation on hand that doesn’t fit into an oversimplified, one word answer. Director Felix van Groeningen could have used the movie to explain how no answers may exist yet for this behavior; “Their family believes in unconditional love, and yet they had to come to terms with the fact that there are no easy answers and dealing with addiction is impossibly irrational,” said van Groeningen.
Actress Maura Tierney surprised me the most as a ‘breakout star’ if you will. Prior to the film, I had never heard of her or seen any of her work, but it turned out having no name/face recognition served a glorious purpose after all. I didn’t see her as a specific character from some other movie, nor did I spend the entirety of the movie struggling to figure out why she seemed so familiar. Instead, I had a blank slate which she expertly filled with a richly developed character. The stepmom trope typically involves overly-attractive women with maybe three lines, evil ambitions that ultimately lead to their demise, or hopeless attempts to fill the irreplaceable maternal hole in troubled teens. Tierney, however, played the role with an unexpected twist by showing Nic a level of unconditional love that one would never have expected.
The movie’s website devotes an entire page to “Addiction Resources” with links and numbers to help those struggling with addiction, as well as their loved ones, to help make a positive change in their situation. Although a simple detail, it makes an effort to help people, real people who don’t have a support system or who don’t know how best to support. “Addiction is not a crime, addiction is not a choice, addiction is a disease, addiction is preventable, addiction is treatable,” said David Sheff.