Announcing himself with his ability to convey restrained emotional complexity and internal suffering that rivals even the most esteemed of his peers, Timothee Chalamet became a revelation with Call Me By Your Name. Less than a year later, he stars in yet another emotional drama (and hopeful Oscar contender) in Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy. Here he manages to display the same level of emotional maturity that had previously propelled him onto audience radars (and awards contention) but that just might not be enough this time around.
Based on the memoirs of David Sheff (played by Steve Carell) and his son Nic (played by Chalamet) Beautiful Boy traces Nic’s struggles with drug addiction, the effects it had on his family and their relationship, and the cycle of recovery and relapse that he, as well as many other users, have dealt with. A topic of discussion that is inherently personal and emotional, the material will strike a chord for anyone who has ever experienced or known someone who has experienced, this same struggle. While the film does feel earnest in its attempts to accurately portray that struggle in a way that will emotionally connect to audiences, its efforts come across as more schmaltzy and manipulative than genuine.
Chalamet even prior to
Carell, on the other hand, continues his successful transition from broad comedic performer to
Alongside attempting to portray drug abuse in a realistic manner, the film feels as if its primary mission is to try and make you cry in whatever ways it can. The film is riddled with childhood flashbacks and sappy musical montages that try to paint an authentic picture of David and Nic’s familial relationship, which the film didn’t need in order to convey that to us because the actors’ immediate chemistry with each other already accomplishes that. The additional artifice of these hoaky filmmaking conventions only serves to undercut the genuine emotion on display from these actors.
The film does, however, have a strong sense of perspective as this relationship unfolds. The majority of the first half is told from the perspective of David as he’s trying to understand and help his son through his rehabilitation, and the manner through which the film reveals certain information, puts the viewer into the position of the concerned parent who’s just been lied to or betrayed by the son that they thought they could trust. In that area, the film’s stylistic techniques are efficiently utilized in order to place you into the character’s perspectives and understand the emotions that they are experiencing, but it also attempts other directorial choices that unfortunately detract from the impact that the film intends to have.
Amongst its endless arsenal of emotionally manipulative tactics is the ever-present inclusion of overbearing music selections, which feel less naturally woven into the drama and the tone of the scene, and more like they dictate how the audience is supposed to feel. Particularly because most of the music used in the film are all pre-existing licensed songs, usually with lyrics and tones that are on-the-nose and specific to the situation happening on screen, which make their inclusions feel even more forceful and overbearing. It almost begs the question of whether it would have had a stronger resonance to completely remove the music entirely and to allow the scene to play out naturally without any musical accompaniment.
While it’s Oscar chances remain slim, and will most likely decrease as the year comes to an end, Beautiful Boy is still an affecting enough drama about the hardships of substance abuse, and the effects that it places on a family, even if its manners of presenting it feel closer in line to a Hallmark Channel original movie. It’s bound to strike an emotional chord with certain viewers, particularly if this subject matter personally hits close to home with someone’s specific experiences, in which case, it’s depiction in the film might prove to feel all too uncomfortably familiar in ways that might be tough to revisit.