If you fell in love with Timothée Chalamet while watching his spellbinding performance in Call Me By Your Name, prepare to have your heart broken all over again this winter with Beautiful Boy. In Felix Van Groeningen’s English-language debut, the Academy Award-nominated actor plays a young drug addict struggling to see a way out of the darkness that seems to surround him, supported by his father, who is played by the always brilliant Steve Carell.
Adapted by the BAFTA award-winning writer Luke Davies (Lion), the film is based upon the bestselling memoirs of David Sheff and his son, Nic. The fact that Beautiful Boy has its basis in truth only serves to make it more honest in its portrayal of a family in crisis. Similarly, the bond between a father and son is a unique and precious thing – even when pushed to its limits – and there’s an easy chemistry to Chalamet’s and Carell’s performances. Carell has previously impressed with strong dramatic turns in Little Miss Sunshine and Foxcatcher, and Beautiful Boy sees him perfectly cast as David Sheff, who is supportive of his son, yet struggles greatly with helping him find a way out of his addiction. Chalamet’s vulnerability as a performer makes him the perfect choice for Nic – he dances between anger and sadness with great care, embodying his complex character with a skill that far outstrips his young age (it’s no surprise he’s being hotly tipped for a Best Supporting Actor nomination come awards season).
Joining them, in strong supporting roles, are Amy Ryan (Bridge Of Spies), and Maura Tierney (The Affair), who play Nic’s mother, Vicki Sheff, and David’s partner, Karen Barbour. Together, the quartet of actors create a fully realised and complex portrait of an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation. Van Groeningen takes care to highlight how addiction can affect anyone, and in turn, how its negative impact spreads beyond Nic Sheff to those who care most about him.
The film isn’t afraid to be bold and realistic about drug dependency, but Beautiful Boy is also a story about parenthood, and how trying to protect your children can see them pull further away. “You’re just embarrassed because I was like your special creation or something, and you don’t like who I am now,” a distressed Nic says accusingly to his father, highlighting the difficulty of trying to protect your child when they don’t want to be protected any more. It’s the film’s ability to balance its account of addiction with the context of Nic and David’s relationship that makes this such a powerful story.
Family is the film’s beating heart. With one of the best (and most emotive) soundtracks of the year, Van Groeningen blends the Sheff family’s past and present to create a unique and deeply moving cinematic scrapbook, capturing the precious moments of calm between the turbulence, but also offering hope for the future. Considering that Beautiful Boy is from the production team who brought audiences 12 Years A Slave and Moonlight, it’s no surprise that you might want to pack some tissues for this one.