Much has been said about the pairing of Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell in Felix Van Groeningen’s latest film Beautiful Boy, which follows a father grappling with the reality of his son’s addiction to crystal meth. After debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Groeningen’s film has made a few other festival appearances before opening the Chicago International Film Festival here Wednesday night and now opening in wide release across the U.S. this weekend. When the director introduced his film to the audience, he suggested this was a story he had been wanting to tell for some time, and he was thrilled to share it with the masses.
What followed was an incredibly dour film, one that wants you to revel in its depression and despair. The movie wastes no time in setting up the stakes of this family’s situation. Chalamet’s Nic is addicted to crystal meth and partakes in nearly every substance imaginable. Not only is Nic addicted to these drugs, but he romanticizes their presence in his life. His father David, played by Carell, comes off as an incredibly honest depiction of what a loving and dedicated father would be dealing with amidst his son’s descent into drug abuse. This can be seen as a career defining performance for Carell, one that could spark a new phase of his career as a legitimate award worthy dramatic actor. Although the title suggests this is a movie about his son, this is a case of Carell taking the moment and running with it, and he is the biggest positive takeaway from the film.
Opposite of Carell, Chalamet displays a very inspired performance as this drug-riddled eighteen-year old kid with serious attitude and behavioral problems. While he is acting the part tremendously, something was off about it, and I think it can be most attributed to the screenplay and direction. The movie doesn’t succeed in making Nic a sympathetic and tragic character. Instead, he comes off simply as a major pain in the ass and a waste of time. The audience grows to hate his character more and more as the film progresses, and his struggle with drug addiction becomes more and more severe. Because we are so enamored with Carell and his character, seeing him hurt time and time again by his son is very tough to deal with.
The movie also features throwaway performances by Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan, playing David’s wife and ex-wife, respectively. They aren’t given anything to do here, and the film seems pressured into having the two of them exist to make the situation more difficult for David. The direction in this movie is also a negative aspect, featuring extensive use of close-ups on David and Nic, rather than giving room to let the scene breathe and feel more natural. A more confident director would have filmed Carell and Chalamet differently, recognizing their strengths as actors and letting their screen presence speak for themselves rather than feeling the need to blow them up in the viewer’s face.
The biggest problems with this film are its pacing and the direction it takes in its final act. It attempts to go out with a bang, but then it undercuts that choice by leaving the audience on a more muted note. In reality, Beautiful Boy doesn’t seem to know the message it wants to impart to the viewer. When it cuts to credits, we are left with, “Those are two really good actors,” “That was a really depressing slog,” and, “Drug addiction is horrible and terrifying.” These feelings aren’t enough to make Beautiful Boy a rewarding experience. The film attempts to make Nic a tragic and relatable character but fails. It instead paints him as a cancer to his family and someone we can’t wait to get away from upon exiting the theater.