“This is a personal matter… it’s about my son,” David Sheff (Steve Carell) states in the opening scene of “Beautiful Boy” – a true-life tale based on the memoirs if the father and son at the heart of this film.
An off-screen voice indicates there’s someone specific with whom David is communicating, but with the camera’s unflinching eye trained solely on David it becomes clear that he’s speaking to us.
“There are moments that I look at him…,” David continues, “… and I wonder who he is.”
This is David’s reality, because his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) has a problem.
And David has some questions: “What is it doing to him? What can I do to help him?”
Given that introduction, I was prepared for “Beautiful Boy” to be a heavy and emotional look at the effects inflicted not only on an addict but on the lives of those around him.
I also expected I would be watching one of the most melancholy films of the year.
And it’s all of those things, steadied by incredibly moving performances from, well… everyone – smallest cast members Christian Convery and Oakley Bull included.
There’s no question that Carell is a funny guy, but I feel like his more serious roles (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love”) historically have been some of his best. He once again proves that here (and for the record, I cannot wait to see what he does in next month’s “Welcome to Marwen.”)
His scenes with Chalamet – no matter the context – bring about every emotion and help define this unique father/son relationship.
Chalamet seems so at ease with demanding roles. His performance here is a very close second to the fan-effing-tastic, Oscar-nominated effort he put forth in last year’s “Call Me by Your Name,” so I think he could net another nom with his portrayal of an angry-and-combative yet remorseful-and-loving young addict.
Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan – as Nic’s stepmom and mother, respectively – deliver short-but-powerful efforts, including one emotionally charged vehicular pursuit that likely will crush your soul.
Everything here feels very real and is absurdly depressing.
But it’s supposed to be.
Director Felix Van Groeningen uses natural lighting, unique angles and slow zooms to soften the look, giving these images a visual tenderness because the story they’re telling is so goddamn harsh.
And those extended takes that hold a shot just a bit longer allow for a more intimate connection to these characters, making this journey feel as personal as David indicates at the film’s start.
There’s one element I found to be brilliantly frustrating, and that’s the repetitive nature of events.
Incidents and actions and dialogues often circle back, but I totally get it; that’s the cycle of addiction: “Relapse is part of recovery.”
And in portraying it the way he does, Van Groeningen essentially transfers the anxiety and discontentment to US, systematically pulling us into this story and making us feel the helplessness as if it’s our own.
The tension it creates keeps us hoping for the best while preparing for… you know.
It’s a maddening pattern for sure, but that’s the point. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, which is exactly what Van Groeningen intended.
Throughout this flick we see flashback memories – usually triggered by a familiar setting – of some of David’s favorite and most vivid moments with his young son (Jack Dylan Grazer playing younger Nic; Kue Lawrence playing youngest Nic) interspersed between Nic’s current and habitual spirals downward, as he wrestles with getting and attempting to stay clean.
The contrast is compelling.
“Beautiful Boy” is a tough one to watch, not gonna lie.
But if you’re looking to be pushed to the emotional brink and wowed by some amazing talent, it’s definitely worth your time.
You have just enjoyed the insights of Movie Addict Mel, a cinema dork and conversational writer. Follow her on Twitter @movieaddictmel, and “like” her Facebook page www.facebook.com/movieaddictmel. You also can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.