Beautiful Boy review: Hollywood hot property Timothée Hal Chalamet follows up his Oscar-nominated performance in Call Me By Your Name with perhaps a much superior, though challenging and indeed heart-breaking turn in this touching tale of drug addiction from Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen.
Beautiful Boy review [TIFF]
Drug addiction is a theme that has featured prominently at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which is where we caught Van Groeningen’s English-language debut, a heart-wrenching film about a father’s torment as witnessing his son’s downward spiral, succumbing to the effects of crystal meth and heroin in California. While Ben Is Back, another TIFF debuter about addiction and recovery – starring Lucas Hedges, just one of a short list of contemporaries who can match Chalamet’s talent – has similar themes, and was set over a 24 hour period, Beautiful Boy catalogues Nic Sheff’s journey over a number of years – from initially trying drugs at a young age, to its complete hold over his life many years later.
Van Groeningen’s film doesn’t follow a normal narrative structure either, but instead drops us into the life of this troubled family at varying points in Nic’s life, starting with Steve Carell’s worried father Dave’s trip to a local doctor to get more information about the drug which his son is addicted to – crystal meth – ‘one of the worst’ to be hooked on.
From here, we go backward and forwards in their history. We discover that Nic is a product of a previous marriage, Carell’s level-headed father with a complete, new, younger family with new partner Karen (Maura Tierney). We dip back to see Nic as a four-year-old – we witness him being put on airplanes to visit his mother on his own, his father being granted full custody – and also fast forward to the height of his addiction some twenty years later. It’s an interesting approach and one which works wonderfully.
Related: Ben Is Back review [TIFF]
Chalamet approaches the role with much maturity, his depiction of a bone-rattling addict both convincing and utterly shocking. Carell too has never been better, his turn in the likes of Anchorman and Evan Almighty a world away. Has a predominantly comedic actor ever been as good as Carell is here? Save the likes of Robin Williams, I think not. He’s astounding as the father willing to go to any lengths to protect his young – even if that means using his journalistic clout or taking the devil drug itself to gain an understanding of what his firstborn is going through.
The dynamic between Carell and Chalamet is outstanding, the connection between the two utterly believable throughout – something that makes it all the more outstanding. The fact that the film I based on the memoir from Nic and Dave Sheff mean that you have an idea of the outcome, but this film isn’t about the result or the end game of its protagonists – it’s about their journey, one which I’m sure continues to this very day.
Van Groeningen has delivered a piece of work which is one of the most harrowing, most engrossing films of the year. Chalamet is the stand-out, his performance something to behold. More Oscar nominations are to surely come, maybe even for this, and with his convincing portrayal, sheer screen presence, and jaw-dropping dominance in every scene, we wouldn’t be surprised if he goes down as one of the greatest actors of his generation. It’s hard to believe he’s still just 22 years old. This is his best work to date, and Beautiful Boy will rank as one of 2018’s best pictures by far.
Heartfelt, harrowing and heartbreaking.
Beautiful Boy review by Paul Heath, September 2018.