Movie review: 'Beautiful Boy'

Brad Keefe

Movies about addiction are tricky business.

Some certainly run the risk of romanticizing it. And if you err too far into the cautionary, you can come off as an after-school special.

“Beautiful Boy” treads territory we've seen before, but it has a welcome and unique perspective. Actually two.

It pulls from the separate memoirs of a father and son, and it does a moving job of sharing a tale of addiction from both angles.

When we meet David Sheff (Steve Carell), he is desperate. He's a father in search of his son, making random phone calls to hospitals. He's weary. It's clear he's been through this before, but it's not gotten easier. His son, Nic (Timothee Chalamet), is an addict.

Nic is not the portrait of whoever you may be imagining as the “typical” drug addict. When we see him and David in happier times, he's vivacious, smart, loving.

He also dabbles in drugs, and Nic found that slope was indeed slippery for him. At one point, his father confronts him, and he rattles off the litany of drugs he's tried, landing on the one that cemented his addiction: meth.

“When I tried it, I felt better than I ever had, so I just kept on doing it,” he explains bluntly.

“Beautiful Boy” documents the highs and lows of Nic's repeated journeys through addiction, rehab and relapse. It's a sad story at times. And it's sadly predictable.

Director and co-writer Felix van Groeningen integrates the perspectives of both father and son into a film that's more of a family drama than another “junkie” story. And it can be a gut punch, at times.

Carell is often restrained as a father who feels powerless to help his boy. He runs through desperation, a patient willingness to do anything, and, eventually, acceptance of his own impotence.

And the parental angle gets layers of complexity with excellent supporting performances from Amy Ryan as Nic's mother and Maura Tierney as David's second wife.

But it's Chalamet who elevates “Beautiful Boy.” The role of an addict is one that's ripe for over-performance, but Chalamet cements himself as a sheer talent, along with his work in last year's “Call Me By Your Name.”

He shows Nic's kindness and his intelligence. And it makes the moments when he fails himself and his family all the more gut-wrenching. His need for drugs is desperate, even as it tears him apart and leads him to disappoint everyone he loves.

“Beautiful Boy” also appreciates the fact that David had the resources to support his son that are only afforded the upper-middle class, but it's a portrait of addiction that resonates. See it for Chalamet alone.

Opens Friday

4 stars out of 5

“Beautiful Boy”