Beautiful Boy proves hard and essential to watch. Who’s going to see this earnest film? Drug addicts? Their siblings? Their parents. Maybe advocates and therapists and counselors? Beautiful Boy conflates two books by the father of the beautiful boy and the title character himself. The one is the paternal protector, the other the addict.
Each tells his story with honesty and love, both brutal at times. David Sheff is a long-time free-lance writer, whose book Beautiful Boy describes the horrors of finding that the son he raised is not the man he wants to respect. Nic Sheff, a new, young writer of Tweak, describes what drug addiction feels like coursing through veins injected with crystal meth or heroin. Both memoirs were best-sellers.
But both are hard to consider in this opiated nation, yet they must be. To read is one thing, however; to watch quite another. Reading about needles in multi-pricked forearms, about brows furrowed in lies or in mistrust, about despair in a bathroom stall or at a writer’s desk is very different from seeing the close-ups on a huge screen, unavoidable, or from hearing a father’s questions — “Are you using? Are you high right now?” — and crumbling under a son’s dissembling.
Beautiful Boy aptly describes Timothée Chalamet, the break-out star of last year’s Call Me by your Name and a cameo in Lady Bird. He mimics Nic’s frail, riddled body. Chalamet is well matched as an actor with Steve Carell, who vacillates from understanding to always worried. Maura Tierney plays his loyal wife, Amy Ryan his trying ex-.
Belgian director Felix van Groeningen adds amber light and unobtrusive yet varied camera angles (including the cliché of looking at a face from the back of a medicine cabinet) to stories as much about words as actions. Beautiful Boy is as draining as it is important. But who wants to see it?
I’m Martha K. Baker. From the Grand Center Arts District, this is 88.1, KDHX, St. Louis.