Olivia Gill reviews Beautiful Boy and the platform the silver screen has given to a true narrative of drug addiction.
One of the films to recently hit the silver-screen is Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy; a poignant depiction of how drug addiction affects the family in addition to the individual. Based off of the memoirs of David Sheff and his son Nic, the film is all true to reality and leaves its viewers in disbelief regarding what the characters endured. Both Steve Carell (David) and Timothée Chalamet (Nic) impressively recreate this story, leaving you either in floods of tears or smiling from joy.
The film begins exactly when Nic’s drug addiction escalates to dependency on crystal meth (having previously heavily experimented with other Class A drugs before the age of 18) and begins to put his life in danger. Before we meet Chalamet as Nic, we are introduced to a younger version through the eyes of his father David. The bright-eyed boy we meet here contrasts starkly with the debilitated Nic played by Chalamet, who arrives home during an ugly come down. By constantly juxtaposing the different stages of Nic’s life through flashbacks, we see the detrimental effects of his drug addiction and the lost innocence of a good-hearted child. Naturally, this raises awareness of the universality of addiction and how it can unsuspectingly affect anyone, such as Nic who is intelligent and greatly cared for by those around him. In this way, Groeningen brings the reality of Nic’s situation to the forefront of viewers minds for the entirety of the film.
As the film continues, we see the highs and lows of Nic’s youth as he goes through various phases of addiction, which constantly overshadows Nic’s movement through rehabilitation, college, support groups and sobriety. However, David’s strength and determination to help his son never wavers, despite the disappointment he may feel when Nic relapses. There is only one moment where David decides to take his attention away from Nic, a risky move driving Nic close to death without David’s support. However, this seems to jumpstart Nic’s life again, going back into rehabilitation and becoming sober and completely drug free. This is the driving force for the film’s denouement, and whilst David’s actions could have ended badly, they seemed efficient in dealing with an addict and the two begin to rebuild their relationship.
Something unusual about the film is the minor role Nic’s mother plays in his life. It was refreshing to see the life of a single father as the guardian depicted on screen both before, and when, David goes on to remarry and have more kids. Understandably the minimal inclusion of Nic’s mother Vicki could be down to the narrative of the memoirs; only appearing when Nic wants to escape David before eventually returning to the dependence of his father. Yet, Nic is never without motherly care, being treated like a son by David’s new wife Karen. It does bring into question whether his broken family life in his younger years had such a detrimental effect on his wellbeing, yet when watching the film, it is hard to believe this to be true.
It is not until the epilogue of the film that the viewer is reminded once again that this is a true story, and not unlike many others in America today. The awareness that Beautiful Boy brings to drug addiction will no doubt be monumental in helping those who suffer as this has never been showcased on the silver-screen in such a way before. The film resonates through its truthful retelling of this period in David and Nic’s life, rather than a fictionalised plot for the same purpose of raising awareness of drug addiction. Chalamet’s nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, to name a few, has already increased the film’s profile. Whilst the reality of what is showcased before us is difficult to accept, I would highly recommend watching for both the incredible acting and to develop your understanding of the wider effects of addiction.
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