Review: Beautiful Boy1 November 2018
Content warning: mentions of drug addiction
You know that feeling of anxiety that starts off as a thought?
In the beginning you dismiss it and move on with your life. But the more you ignore it the worse it gets. For me, the best way to deal with that urge is to confront it. I can be a very impatient person sometimes.
In the lead up to the film, this manifested itself with me reading the synopsis, articles covering the film, watching the trailer, and telling multiple friends that I was going. I was actively asking for advice on what to write and how to write it.
Should I be harsh?
What do I need to nail?
Themes? Summary? Rhythm? How do I cover the beauty of the existential?
Louis B. Mayer believed movies were a way to escape the world and to see a new perspective. They helped you to learn and grow—not just be entertained. Good memories are made better in the company of people, so for this experience, I brought along a friend of mine who I knew would enjoy it.
Beautiful Boy tells the story of a father (David) and son (Nic), and the breakdown of their relationship as Nic becomes addicted to meth. The love and seemingly unbreakable familial bond provides the story with most of its thrust, and teaches the audience some valuable lessons through Nic’s path to recovery.
The movie begins off slowly. It jumps back and forward in time, showing flashbacks of Nic (played by the impeccable Timothée Chalamet) growing up. These little moments allow for a genuine warmth and affection between Nic and his father (Steve Carell) to be developed on camera. One detriment to this approach is that some of these detours are not needed for the story to progress, and can frustrate the audience in the process. I admit, the first half of the movie certainly took its time. However, the care placed on developing the relationship between both father and son (which is the whole purpose of the film) was not damaged in the process.
What makes this film strong is the acting. Steve Carell has made a monumental move from primarily comedy based films, such as the 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), to more serious method roles like Foxcatcher (2014) as he has aged. You can sense that he has grown through these characters, and brought his versatile skills with him. The emotion he produces is remarkable and it is through him that you are devastated when the relationship with his son breaks down.
Chalamet portrays a character whose finest contribution to the film is his subtlety. Nic hints at the attentive audience member that something is wrong, and the direction he will soon take. This approach does not spoil the film, nor is this approach too obvious. Instead it builds suspense and apprehension.
Nic makes you anxious that something is about to happen. You’re not sure what will happen, or whether it would benefit the storyline, but the more you tried to ignore the hint the worse the anxiety became.
You could sense that something was wrong with Nic over multiple scenes when he visited his father after almost eighteen months sober. There was something deep inside him holding him back. You could feel that he was barely holding it together.
Near the end of the film, when Nic had relapsed and broken into his dad’s home, I was disappointed in the direction the film had taken. I felt that the movie had betrayed me.
Was it necessary to portray such a raw scene on film?
Did it actually contribute anything?
It was only after the movie concluded that I realised the film was based on a true story. All my preparation, and all my anxiety, and all my excitement, and I was seemingly ignorant of a basic truth.
You can never prepare for everything in life. Nic teaches you this. But what you can try and do is cherish what you have and never let it go. With me it was important to bring my friend along for the journey. With Nic, he needed his dad with him for that.
It was only when the final scenes approached, and the story took another turn, that it finally hit me.
The story had been told, and the lessons learned.
And moments later the director ended it. With a single shot of father and son. Together again.