Words: Hollie Geraghty
It’s no surprise that when Beautiful Boy got monumentally snubbed from the Oscars this year, outrage was flying at the Academy from all angles. Surely all the ingredients were there: a middle-class white family struggling with drug addiction, three Oscar-nominated actors, and a meaty soundtrack to overpower all the important scenes. But, alas, it didn’t quite work out for Beautiful Boy. Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell will be sat on the sidelines alongside Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle, no chance of grabbing another little gold man.
The film is based on the memoirs of Nic and David Sheff, played by Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell respectively. Though he has everything going for him, Nic struggles in the depths of drug use, spiralling out of control to the point where his unconditionally loving father is left devastated and helpless. It’s a perfectly good watch and definitely an essential one, but considering this is a kid whose parents have split and faces a constant, unexplainable dejection, this suffering doesn’t spill out to the audience as much as it should. We see a lot of flashbacks but none lend any real explanation as to why Nic is so unfulfilled and driven to drugs.
Chalamet is brilliant, but the structure feels a bit bumpy and awkward, so the emotional impact is stunted. The father-son interactions don’t really tug at the heartstrings the way they should. Things are slightly too clean and censored in what should be a dirty, bloody, snotty look at what constant drug use does to a person and their family. When it gets to climatic make or break moments, the fact that Steve Carell’s raised voice sounds exactly like his The Office character Michael Scott was on my mind more than the thought that his relationship with his son is crumbling.
The worst thing about Beautiful Boy is that there are more scenes with soundtrack or score than ones where there isn’t. If you need to force some emotional music in every high-tension scene, then it’s probably because the acting alone doesn’t cut it. One scene in particular sticks out where David looks through his son’s notebook to find some disturbing notes and drawings. But just in case we didn’t realise it was disturbing, some jarring music plays over the top because, you know, the the common audience isn’t smart enough to understand that. But it didn’t save anything – it made the film a caricature of a serious drug drama.
There are a few genuinely touching moments. Nic’s protective relationship with his siblings is super sweet, and his dad’s ode to John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ is very memorable. And with the current crystal meth and opiate epidemic in the US, the film is certainly timely, but in reality Beautiful Boy coasts too much. Perhaps the Academy were right about this one.