Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy is a film awash in sincerity and heavy topics and heavier emotions, one that obviously had its sights set on awards season. And while there’s certainly a genuineness to the emotions it wants to churn up, the movie just feels too slight in the end, with too narrow an approach that really leaves the film lacking in reasons to feel invested. Part of this is the approach, but also, the performances and overall tone of Beautiful Boy leave an empty feeling, keeping a pretty good movie from ever approaching anything close to greatness.
The film is based on two books, Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by Nic Sheff, both dealing with Nic’s struggle with drug addiction. But while the film revolves around Nic’s issues, the real focus of the film is the difficulties that families encounter when a loved one is afflicted with addiction. This is a novel and welcome approach when it avoids the usual drug abuse cliches that movies like to dabble in, but since Beautiful Boy is about the dangers of addiction, that presents an unavoidable aspect of the goings-on.
Where the hiccups start is the fact that the movie doesn’t really have an emotional center. It’s not Timothee Chalamet as Nic, because his character exists more to push the plot forward. Even as that fulcrum, he’s an empty character with nothing to latch onto. And it’s not quite Steve Carell as David, whose only character trait is the stress he feels for his son’s life.
This flimsiness in the characters isn’t a backbreaker, but it does worm its way into the film’s biggest issue, particularly the difficulty it has when handling addiction. Namely, everything leads to the sense that the real reason to care about Nic’s drug abuse is that it’s so shockingly out of left field. I’m sure for David, in real life, this is the thing he struggled with the most, the confusion of believing he had done everything right as a parent and ultimately feeling as if he’d failed. But the movie does a shoddy job of illustrating this.
Instead, the movie turns this more into a sense that its Nic’s affluent background that’s the real reason to find all of this tragic. It’s a simplistic way to view addiction and one that ignores so many other stories and factors. Ultimately, the story feels too narrow and too rote, while missing some of the complexity of addiction as a disease. It’s a pity because there’s some really sophisticated filmmaking going on, specifically in the way the movie is structured and its use of music. But that’s where the sophistication ends. Rated R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.