Movie Review: Beautiful Boy — An Exquisite, Excruciating Film About Addiction

Beautiful Boy is haunting me.

I can’t stop thinking about the film after seeing it in the theater alone this past Saturday morning. As I sipped my Sprite — my drink of choice ever since I quit alcohol and drugs — I watched a story that, needless to say, hit close to home. While I never did crystal meth—and I’ve been sober nearly seven years—I used to do several hardcore drugs and Beautiful Boy forced me to revisit those terrifying memories. Memories that can never be erased. Only suppressed. Conquered. Dealt with.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by David Sheff and stars Oscar nominee Steve Carell as a dad whose son is addicted to crystal meth.

We know Carell can do funny. He was notoriously comedic in his role on The Office and in such comedies as Despicable Me, Anchorman, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin,but there is a bona fide serious side to the actor.

And in Beautiful Boy, his portrayal of a tenacious father trying to win back his son from the harrowing underbelly of addiction can only be described as intense.

There is actually a duo of memoirs this film is based on: the titular one written by father David Sheff and its darker twin, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, by son Nic Sheff.

Nic is played by Timothée Chalamet, who became the toast of Hollywood during last year’s awards season for his stunning role in the gay romance Call Me By Your Name. In Beautiful Boy, Chalamet’s portrayal of a desperate young meth and heroin addict is nothing short of visceral and sorrowful, tugging at the heartstrings of those who have witnessed the perils of addiction firsthand in addition to enlightening those with less familiarity with the disease.

In a memorable scene, Nic is seen tweaking out and then vomiting while the Nirvana song “Territorial Pissings” plays at maximum volume. The distortion, overdrive, and lyrics of the hardcore punk song are like Nic’s headspace itself. The volume dips down to mute during the upchuck, artfully accenting Nic’s sickness before slapping the audience in the face with gut-wrenching reality as it whips back into notorious heroin addict Kurt Cobain’s screaming refrain of “Gotta find a way, a better way, I’d better wait,” foreshadowing Nic’s procrastination with regards to becoming sober. It provides the audience with a profound understanding of crystal meth withdrawal. And it is a feat of film editing.

Carell soft-spokenly supports his son with saint-like patience throughout most of the film — rehab after relapse after rehab after relapse and repeat nearly ad infinitum — until he finally breaks, overflowing with rage in a scene in which he finds himself screaming into his cell phone and angrily throwing it out into the forest surrounding the family’s San Francisco-area home. The vitriol is in sharp contrast to the funny-guy Carell we’re used to, and therefore is more tangible and outright spine-chilling. Brilliant even.

A while back, I did a post on the Top Ten Most Authentic Films About Addiction. I would place Beautiful Boy in the number-four spot, just after Drugstore Cowboy and before The Lost Weekend. (I would also knock Reefer Madness (No. 10) off the list. It was kind of a joke that it was on there to begin with.) Beautiful Boy drives home the sensibility that addiction is a family disease, which gets it to that spot, but the three above it — Trainspotting, Requiem For a Dream,and Drugstore Cowboy are more stylistic.

Watching Beautiful Boygave me a sense of guilt. Guilt that I may have had it too easy. Guilt that I never experienced the horrors of heroin or crack-cocaine withdrawals. And gratitude — like with Nic — my family supported me so diligently and continuously. I’m lucky.

And I must say, it was harder for me to quit smoking than it was to quit drinking and drugs, though I think that is an anomaly.

For the most part, my family — like David Sheff — killed me with kindness throughout my process of getting sober. And even though I’ve only been to rehab once and — knock on wood — have never relapsed, David Sheff’s style of support reminded me of my own dad’s helping hand.

I’m still thinking about Beautiful Boy days later, even dreaming about it. Starkly sophisticated films stay with you. I hope this one sees some love in the upcoming awards season. A Best Picture nod perhaps? Beautiful Boy rivals A Star is Born so farfor the best movie I’ve seen this year. Chalamet and Carell each deserve a Best Actor nom, although I would give the award to Chalamet because of his raw portrayal and youthful talent. Either way, this film is an unforgettable instrument of genuine emotion and quality filmmaking that deserves accolades aplenty.