As far as addiction memoirs go, this film is on the tamer side, almost feeling inhibited. Some of Beautiful Boy’s appeal is, however, its muted tones, the cyclic styles that the film runs in during its one hundred and thirty-nine-minute duration. It’s almost tiresome, the anticipation of everything falling apart, the highs and lows amid a sunny L.A. backdrop or the dark corner of a bathroom stall. The feeling of an emotional disconnect, the weight of a cyclonic helplessness seeps onto the screen as we follow Nic’s father, David, and his attempts to understand the rise and falls in his son’s addiction and recovery. Just like how David had told a young Nic in the airport in one scene – “Do you know how much I love you? If you could take all the words in the language, it still wouldn’t describe how much I love you. I love you more than everything” – Nic is his sun, as if he were heliotropic, moving in the same motions day and night.
The film isn’t dramatized in the sort of voyeuristic pull that watching a disaster unfold has like in some other drug films. There is a layer of abstraction that comes from Beautiful Boy being primarily focused on David and his otherwise idle life, with shots of rolling green lawns and kids’ swim meets. It’s the kind of complacency that drove Nic to crystal meth, an all-American boy with a suburban emptiness, a lethal boredom, a hole to fill. This mood is perfect in Beautiful Boy.
But for the moments where Beautiful Boy is supposed to emerge from its staid nature with the capability for heartache it has, it feels like a tick box on pain. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic with sensitivity that’s powerful, simultaneously a crude driving force and an acute fragility in each scene, with Steve Carell alongside, growing into his role the longer the film plays on, becoming more and more certain as David with each iteration of Nic’s relapse and recovery. Yet as a whole, Beautiful Boy feels not quite there. Despite a few significant scenes, there isn’t enough for it to rise from the consistent white noise of gloom that drowns the film.
Maybe this is its intention. The film has some rough edges carefully stripped away from the original written memoir, turning it into something more refined and clean and easy to digest. If it wanted to be more accessible, more focused on the particular struggle of loving someone already long gone, more soft-spoken and hopeful, then Beautiful Boy has accomplished that. Otherwise, it feels as if there is a loss of depth, a film that only treads in the shallows, waterlogged, when it was given an ocean.
Check out Beautiful Boy at Michigan Theater.