Warning: This review contains spoilers for Beautiful Boy.
In 2013, Statistics Canada reported that 60 per cent of illicit drugs users were between the ages of 15 to 24.
As a young adult, learning to find your identity is important. That can often mean living in the moment through reckless experimentation, even if it hurts you. Beautiful Boy was the first drug drama I’ve seen that didn’t glorify the experience with addiction and the difficulty of recovery.
Directed by Belgian-born Felix Van Groeningen, the film follows David and Nic Sheff. A father and son who are both dealing with Nic’s drug addiction. David, played by Steve Carell, and Nic, played by Timothée Chalamet, work together to capture the essence of struggle and the strained relationship that can come with addiction.
The film is adapted from two memoirs, Beautiful Boy and Tweak, written by the real-life versions of Carell and Chalamet’s characters. Van Groeningen uses them to show both perspectives on Nic’s struggle with drug abuse.
Nic falls into an addiction shortly after his 18th birthday, beginning with a joint shared with his father. As the film progresses, he escalates to the point of injecting methamphetamine into his arm on a public bathroom floor.
As the film continues, each scene builds intensity from the last. I could feel the anticipation wondering what was going to happen between David, Nic as their relationship continued to spiral. David comes to learn that in order for someone to beat their addiction, they have to want to get better. Even though it may be difficult to watch a loved one exist in a state of denial. Carell genuinely displays a parent’s frustration throughout the film.
When Nic first makes his attempt at recovery, the scenes are lighter. The colours are bright, Nic’s plaid shirts are vibrant, and the overall atmosphere is pleasant. A great example of this is the scene when Nic moves in with his mother, played by Amy Ryan. He’s communicating a lot better, and he’s become a helper at a local rehab.
When Nic relapses, the scenes are darker. From dim nightclubs to the restaurant Nic and David haunt throughout the film, settings are cast with darker colours and sombre atmosphere. Nic’s addiction is present, whether overtly or in the background, in every scene.
A pivotal scene is when Nic relapses after 14 months of sobriety. We see the hopelessness, but also the illicit pleasure that comes with giving into temptation. It’s mentioned throughout the film, by one of Nic’s counsellors, that relapse is a part of addiction. This theme of setback and failure follows Chalamet’s character throughout the film, as he relies on different drugs to feed his addiction.
This role is a departure from Chalamet’s breakout role as a young man exploring his sexuality in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. However, both roles are relevant and timely in today’s society. Chalamet does a fantastic job of capturing the pain and dependency of a young person on drugs.
It’s important to address that addiction can start at the young age of 15, and it’s surprising that five years ago, 60 per cent of drug users were between 15 and 24. Films such as Beautiful Boy will continue to speak to this statistic, and hopefully shed light on the real struggle of addiction.
After watching the film, it’s clear that struggling with an addiction is difficult for everyone involved. The audience is subject to the highs and lows and the process of recovery. Although it features dark themes and graphic content, Beautiful Boy is this year’s starting point to opening up the conversation about addiction among young people.
Beautiful Boy made its worldwide premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and be released on Oct. 12, by Amazon Studios. Watch the trailer here.