Dateworthy? “Beautiful Boy”
Is the new “Beautiful Boy” film worth a date night this weekend? No.
The movie is a true-life tale of a father fighting to help his teen son overcome drug addiction. It has powerful performances, no doubt. But it wastes too much time stuck in the cycle of addiction, recovery and false hope to truly be entertaining rather than annoying.
The drug epidemic sweeping America presently is affecting millions of people. In the past, they would have been untouched by the devastation of illegal narcotics and abused prescription medications. The new movie “Beautiful Boy” offers an occasionally harrowing reminder of sad and scary fact. It also offers a touching real-life example of the Prodigal Son story, in which an ever-patient and loving father never gives up hope for his son.
The movie stars Steve Carell as veteran journalist David Sheff and rising French actor Timothee Chalamet as his troubled teenage son Nic. “Beautiful Boy” is based on an unusual pair of best-selling memoirs written by the pair. David wrote the book “Beautiful Boy” to recount his experiences trying to save his son from a father’s point of view. Nic wrote “Tweak” from the point of view of an addict mired in personal torment who has to learn to accept his father’s love.
Steve Carell plays in a Prodigal Son true-life tale
The casting of Carell, one of our current greatest screen Everymen, in the role of David makes his dilemma instantly relatable. He opens the film speaking to a drug expert. He’s desperate for answers about the odds of recovery for his son. He’s also searching for answers about the damage that an addiction to crystal meth can do to the human brain.
The answers aren’t pretty.
Soon the movie jumps back to a year earlier, when David first noticed that Nic became a surly, oversleeping mess who lost all his ambition. Nic was eager to follow in David’s footsteps as a career writer as well as an illustrator. But now he’s simply chasing the next high from an array of drugs including marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and even heroin. Meth is his secret worst drug of all.
David and Nic’s mother Vicki (Amy Ryan) split up when Nic was a pre-schooler. This decision subjected Nic to a confusing childhood. He spent summers and holidays with his mom in Los Angeles and the rest of the year with David. David also has second wife Karen (Maura Tierney) and two new young children. While he tried to give Nic everything he thought he needed growing up, a stirring series of flashbacks throughout starts to show him the cracks in the facade of happiness during Nic’s adolescence.
David forces Nic into a 28-day rehab that appears to be effective at first. But when Nic escapes a followup stay in a halfway house and winds up vomiting in an alley in another city, he realizes that he’s got a monster of a problem on his hands. This is a problem he has to navigate carefully not only so that he doesn’t lose Nic, but so he also doesn’t cause the relationships with his new family to suffer.
The cycle of addiction becomes grating rather than entertaining
“Beautiful Boy” takes its name from a John Lennon ode to his younger son Sean that appeared on the album “Double Fantasy” right before his assassination. David sings “Beautiful Boy” to Nic as a young child in one of the film’s most touching moments. Director Felix van Groeningen (who co-wrote the screenplay with Luke Davies) effectively takes viewers through the ever-unpredictable world of ping-ponging emotions and crises that envelop any family dealing with a serious addiction. Carell and Chalamet are terrific in their roles. Chalamet is a constantly shifting emotional chameleon.
The message of “Beautiful Boy” is a beautiful portrait of familial love, forgiveness and reconciliation. But the constant merry-go-round that Nic subjects his family to eventually becomes grating. He may have been shuttled between parents, but every indication also showed that they each doted on him during their turns with custody.
Thus, it never becomes fully clear why Nic became such a seeker of trouble for himself and others. Rather, he merely says the day-to-day of life is hard and of little interest to him, and thus feels entitled to spice it up with chaos. By the final half hour, viewers will likely want to join David in screaming at him to get it together.
Being raised without a bedrock of faith leads to emptiness and misery
One thing that does seem apparent, whether the filmmakers intended it to be so, is that Nic has been raised without a sense of faith or religion. Before realizing that his son has a drug problem, David laughs while recounting the fact that he experimented with an array of illegal drugs during his own younger days, and even shares a joint with his son.
If anything, this film seems to be showing the ennui that can set in when one just lets existence pass by without any sense of higher order or purpose. “Beautiful Boy” should serve as a cautionary tale to parents not to assume that their teen s are alright, but to give them a sense of morality and true faith if they hope to instill a truly happy and grounded life in them.
Story line: 5
Overall: 6 out of 10
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.