LFF review: ‘Beautiful Boy’ shows us that anyone can fall victim to addiction
13 October 2018 13:11
‘Relapse is a part of recovery,’ is the reassuring sentiment that the head of a rehab facility offers David Sheff (Steve Carell) when she informs him his son has gone missing. ‘That’s like saying crashing is part of pilot training,’ he snaps back, hanging up shortly after. But of course, it’s nothing like that. Drug addiction is brutal and, indeed, Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy isn’t afraid to confront all of its uncomfortable realities again, and again, and again.
Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) wasn’t supposed to become a meth addict. He grew up surrounded by a creative, loving family; in a large modern house that indicates his parents are high earners. He’s smart and gets into all of the colleges he applies to. He has a bright future ahead of him. People like him don’t get addicted to drugs. Sure, maybe they mess around with weed and cocaine at parties, like his father admits to doing, but shooting up crystal meth on the daily? That’s not for the middle classes.
‘This is not us. This is not who we are,’ shouts an exasperated Carell when Chalamet’s Nic admits to the extent of his drug use. In the space of a year, he’s discovered meth and has postponed his college plans. To his parents, it seems like a rapid spiral, but it turns out he has been abusing party drugs for years.
Based on memoirs by the real David and Nic Sheff – Beautiful Boy (2008) and Tweak (2007), respectively – at its core, Groeningen’s film is about the relationship between a frustrated father and a son who he’s unable to protect. The drugs mutate Nic’s personality, and Chalamet’s performance of all of its iterations is nothing short of incredible: from desperate to deceitful, furious to fragile, the nuances are complex, but he executes them brilliantly.
On both sides, there’s shame, guilt and a sense of helplessness. No one knows what to do for the best and there are no quick fixes. The comforts of privilege might soften the often life-shattering blow of addiction, but recovery can’t be bought, and the ‘black hole’ inside of Nic, which he says drove him to drugs in the first place, can manifest within us all.
He says that drugs take ‘the edge off stupid everyday reality,’ and, ultimately, relief from reality is something we all crave, no matter how comfortable our everyday is. As the film ends, just before the credits roll, Beautiful Boy reminds the audience that drug addiction is the largest cause of death for under 50s in America. A rising epidemic, addiction isn’t caused by a fault in the user, it’s a fault of society. Beautiful Boy reminds us that anyone can fall victim.