I’ve spent the passed few nights thinking about Felix Van Groeningen’s film “Beautiful Boy.” Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers said it best when he quipped, “[Beautiful Boy is] hard to take and impossible to forget.” I echo these sentiments.
This film depicts the brutally cyclical demons of addiction, while not boasting authority over the conversation. A topic many filmmakers shy away from, however, Groeningen accepts this responsibility with aplomb. What started as a reality for the Sheff family, blossomed into two, moving memoirs and now is a film that calls for an evening indoors this fall.
I recommend this film not because it is enjoyable to watch but for the revered performances given by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. This, of course, is no knock on the integrity of the film’s narrative. I submit, rather, that this film is difficult to watch purposefully. Perhaps overbearing at times, but this film juggles addiction and the idea of letting your children go as well. At times, the film feels more about the feeling (as a parent) of watching your children outgrow dependency. A sad truth that permeates through the film and is brought to life by Carell’s character.
Where the actors shined, the musical score did not. The song choices made in this film are as confusing as the trials of addiction: unpredictable and strange. Notable songs include "Sound and Vision" by David Bowie, "Nanou2" by Aphex Twin, and "Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana. As a non-drug using colleague of mine said, “It’s as if you’re high and relapsing over-and-over again throughout the film.” You truly ride the ever-changing roller-coaster of addiction along with these characters, and the music is the vehicle that carries you there.
From a cinematography standpoint, the film plays exactly as expected. Using bright, natural light and dark shadows when appropriate, while also falling back on color conventions with blues and oranges. More noticeable, however, is the expressions upon the faces of the aforementioned characters. The way their foreheads twist and turn with discomfort feels oddly impressionable.
At this point, it’s fair to conclude this film is held up by it’s acting, but nevertheless an important film. If only for the final credit: Overdoses now leading cause of death of Americans under 50. This is a much bigger problem than most realize.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.