MOVIE REVIEW: The painful timeliness to Beautiful Boy
THERE'S a timeliness to Beautiful Boy that's tragic.
Drug overdose deaths in the United States hit 72,000 in 2016, with a similarly grim number predicted for this year.
So the story of a father and son's torturous journey through the perils of addiction comes at a time when so many families are facing the same spectre.
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen and adapted by Australian screenwriter Luke Davies (who had himself penned a memoir about his own heroin addiction) from a pair of books by writer David Sheff and his son Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles Nic's meth addiction when he was a teenager.
Which all sounds very heavy and bleak, but there is a lightness of touch in Beautiful Boy that keeps it from being enveloped in unbearable darkness.
Nic (Timothee Chalamet) has grown up in a loving, carefree Northern California household, with his writer father and his artist stepmother. He was a cheerful and fearless kid, jubilant at the arrival of his younger siblings and loved catching waves with his dad Dave (Steve Carell).
We know this because Beautiful Boy flashes back to those happier days as his family struggles to deal with the present-day Nic - a charismatic young man using drugs to escape some kind of indescribable pain.
What actually ails him remains elusive in the film, one of Beautiful Boy's flaws in that you don't ever fully invest in Nic's emotional state because you don't understand it - you empathise but you don't necessarily sympathise.
Through stints at rehab to losing touch for months only to have to fly across the country when a hospital in New York calls to say Nic has overdosed, Dave has been put through the wringer.
As a writer, Dave's instinct is to try and understand the disease of addiction. He approaches a doctor and asks what countless parents have asked: "What is it doing to him and what can I do to help him?"
That sense of wretched helplessness is something Beautiful Boy captures well and Carell has infused a lot of humanity in Dave. But there are moments when Carell has gone a little too big and you can see a flash of Michael Scott.
That's not to say the traditionally comic actor has trouble with dramatic roles, we know he can thanks to that stunning, Oscar-nominated turn in Foxcatcher.
What Carell and Chalamet pull off, exceptionally, is that unbreakable bond between father and son, a pair that's been through more than most, and who, despite terse words, disappointments and absence, clearly still love each other.
And what Beautiful Boy and Chalamet lay out in starkness is how destructively alluring the charms of an addict can be - Nic steals his little brother's $8 at one point - and why their loved ones give them chance after chance even after all the lies.
Van Groening's most famous previous feature was the heart-wrenching The Broken Circle Breakdown, the story of a couple of musicians struck by unthinkable tragedy. That movie, made in the director's native Belgium, was an emotional tour de force that consumed you whole.
By contrast, Beautiful Boy is a more reserved film, and not necessarily for lack of trying. There's a distance about it, so that despite the great performances and the gorgeous cinematography, you don't truly feel like you're a part of it.
Beautiful Boy is in cinemas now.
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