Beautiful Boy (3 stars)

Beautiful Boy

TIFF 2018: Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet shine as a father and son torn apart by addiction

The Belgian director of The Broken Circle Breakdown, Felix Van Groeningen, makes a smooth, heartrending transition to English-language fare with Beautiful Boy, a true-life tale of a family torn apart by addiction. Powerful core performances from Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet transform the film into a reckoning between father and son as they navigate the guilt, betrayal and loss that unfurl as the addiction takes hold.

Guilt appears to have always been a defining element of the relationship between freelance journalist David Sheff (Carell) and his son Nic (Chalamet). The younger Nic is a casualty of his parents' divorce. The older Nic is a shining student with a brilliant future ahead of him. He is also a party animal whose fondness for experimentation begins to tip over from casual drug use to full-blown meth dependency.

Beautiful Boy diligently follows the never-ending cycle of rehab and relapse. Chalamet's fully committed portrayal captures Nic's physical decline, growing frailty and the sense of addiction pulling him further from the world he has known and deeper into himself. He seems hell-bent on a path of self-destruction but may not even know why himself.

Van Groeningen's sixth feature is as sombre as the subject matter dictates, although it still leaves the sense of things unknown. It is especially coy on how Nic managed to finance his drug consumption and stay afloat during his times in San Francisco and New York. Handsomely photographed but inevitably tending towards the repetitive, the film teases out the raw emotion in a story that can start to seem staid and formulaic. A pale, haunted Chalamet dominates, confirming his status as one of the best and brightest of his generation; he could well be heading back to the Oscars one year on from Call Me by Your Name.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 18 Jan 2019.

Beautiful Boy

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
  • Cast: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney
  • UK release: 18 January 2019

David (Carell) is a successful freelance journalist whose son Nic (Chalamet) becomes dependent on meth. True-life story of family breakdown, capturing the never-ending cycle of rehab and relapse; handsomely photographed but repetitive and a bit formulaic, but Chalamet is outstanding.