Film Review: Timothée Chalamet Shines Once Again in "Beautiful Boy"
Based on two memoirs, one written by David Scheff and the other written by his son, Nic Scheff, Beautiful Boy tells the story of a young man’s addiction to crystal meth and its devastating effect on both himself and his family.
The good news is that Timothée Chalamet - rail-thinner than usual and brimming with twitchy energy - delivers a skilful, physically-demanding and searing performance as Nic Scheff, a helpless addict trapped in a cycle of need, euphoria, and all-consuming pain. I’d go so far as to say that his performance alone is worth the ticket price.
Sadly, Chalamet’s talents are ill-served by a jumpy, unfocused script and blunt direction (provided by Felix Van Groeningen). Chalamet’s performance is powerful but the many self-consciously ‘soulful’ montages of his drug use (with radio-friendly pop songs galore,) threaten to oversimplify and romanticise his nuanced work. It’s overwrought, manipulative and reminds the viewer that, no matter how real his pain seems, it isn’t; it’s just a movie. At times, Beautiful Boy feels more like an earnest plea to Oscar voters than a wrenching narrative. Simply put, Chalamet’s work is serrated and challenging, but Van Groeningen’s is smoothed down and easily digestible.
Most frustratingly, Beautiful Boy unevenly splits its narrative real estate. It strongly favours Steve Carell’s perspective as David Scheff, Nic’s perpetually anxious father who is always mentally bracing himself to hear the worst. It’s not that Steve Carell doesn’t do fine work here: he does. It’s just that there’s not actually that much drama to be milked from his perspective. It gets too repetitive too quickly, and too little is asked of Carell other than to mope around and brood. Thankfully, he’s supported by Maura Tierney as his wife Karen, along with their two kids. They don’t get much to do but, in their few minutes of screentime, they successfully convey the emotional black hole that Nic’s addiction has created.
There are some gut-wrenching emotional truths in Beautiful Boy that elevate it beyond a prestige after-school special. In particular, the grim idea that, as much as you love them, an addict can’t be fixed. The soul crushing repetition of relapse and recovery also rings true, though it sometimes feels…well, repetitive. And, of course, there is Chalamet. Ultimately, even though Beautiful Boy’s promising pieces don’t add up to anything transcendent, it’s well worth a view if you’re curious.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Header Image Credit: Amazon Studios