Countless young adults feel isolated, misunderstood by the world and estranged from their families during their adolescent development. “Beautiful Boy” explores these ideas as well as how emotions such as these can lead to a lifetime of drug addiction.
However, this true story is not your run-of-the-mill drug-addiction flick.
Nicholas Sheff, played by Timothée Chalamet, is a troubled teen from a broken yet affectionate family. David Sheff, portrayed by Steve Carell, worries for his son’s future, understanding he no longer knows his beautiful boy who he once knew inside and out.
Sheff justifies his son’s strange behavior as a hormonal, teenage phase, but things take a turn for the worse when Nicholas turns to meth to fill his internal void. Young Sheff becomes a stranger to loved ones and eventually himself.
The film is the result of two books by David and Nicholas Sheff, telling both perspectives of the same occurence. It seamlessly connects the story of a father and a son with the reality of substance abuse. It explores the internal workings of a family torn apart from the mental — not the physical — loss of a child.
Nicholas’ character depicts both the light and dark sides of adolescence. His loving and carefree childhood contradicts the tough and often unrelatable childhoods associated with typical criminals and addicts. However, his character is not without struggle.
The main source of his pain stems from the divorce of his parents when he was a toddler, an occurrence many may correlate to their own childhoods. Still, his relationship with his father is seemingly unbreakable, but the unconditional support of his family leaves him sheltered as adulthood approaches.
To Nicholas, pain may seem irrational, but it’s obvious the divorce has left a part of him looking for an escape. He finds this in the band Nirvana and a poem by a depressed author he claims saved his life.
Themes of depression, hatred and drug use are planted in his subconscious through his idols, feeding his curiosity and leading him to become trapped. Because of the believability of Nicholas’ portrayal, it cuts even deeper as we see the drugs take over his mind.
Nicholas pours out sketches and drawings of dark, misshapen faces. The drawings give David insight into his son’s thoughts.
He reads about how his son’s world went from black and white to Technicolor. Nicholas feels the more he uses drugs, the more uncontrollable his actions become, and the harder it is for him to turn back.
On the other hand, David’s mind is filled with montages of his son’s childhood filled with days surfing at the beach and picnics at the park.
Internally, Nicholas’ gratitude for David is apparent, but after every night of bad decisions, he feels he betrayed the work his father did to give Nicholas a better life than he had. David becomes as helpless as his son after trying and failing to help him. This causes him to realize that, as a father, he can do nothing.
“I think (while working on this film) I realized the gravity of a parents love and perhaps torturously their sense of responsibility towards their kid,” Chalamet told Jake Hamilton, host of “Jake’s Takes,” in an interview.
The mind of Nicholas is being manipulated by fried nerve endings from meth, all while battling incomprehensible guilt. He has to make a decision to pursue love with Lauren, his love interest, at the price of continual drug use, or return to his family and leave his old life, love and habits behind.
“Beautiful Boy” has an effective and compelling message regarding addiction, but may be hard to follow for audience members. The transition of scenes at some points makes it difficult to tell at what point in time the events occur.
However, the emphasis on the story itself prevents merely a couple of discrepancies in time from majorly distracting viewers from key concepts. That being said, it is imperative that the intensity of this poignant film is understood, or it could leave the watcher an emotional wreck.
Currently nominated for three awards, the film is another masterpiece from director Felix Van Groeningen and is sure to both warm and break hearts this October.