‘Beautiful Boy’: Timothée Chalamet is heartbreaking as drug dependent son
Let’s just get this out the way… Timothée Chalamet is the loveliest, most endearing, radiant and bloody talented young actor to ever grace the screen with his presence. Do yourself a favour and look up his Death of a Salesman monologue in ‘Miss Stevens’ – an awful film, but worth watching for those three minutes of one-on-one time with Timmy. Do yourself another favour, watch the last five minutes of Call Me by Your Name for prime Chalamet emotion, or just watch all of it, it’s a damn good film.
Anyway, it’s a moment of crisis in Beautiful Boy, director Felix van Groeningen’s latest film. David Sheff (Steve Carell) picks up a book in his son’s room – The Beautiful and Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald. His son, Nic (Chalamet) has disappeared again. Nic used to be compassionate, passionate and personable. This film is about his decline into drug addiction, and the feelings of fatefulness that such a dependency can cause. Nic says “that he takes drugs and then he lets people down, and so he takes more drugs, so he doesn’t have to deal with that”. Beautiful and damned indeed.
At the heart of this film is a beautiful and persuasive father-son relationship reminiscent of Kramer vs. Kramer, The Pursuit of Happyness or even Shia LaBeouf’s horribly messy film, Man Down. In Beautiful Boy, a young and uncorrupted relationship; but as the boy matures, so do the themes and tone of the movie – and with that, the insights offered become increasingly complex and well-observed.
Beautiful Boy is a character-driven film at its finest using emotional intelligence to make its legibility and relatability so accessible. Examples of emotional intelligence: Steve Carell played the tiredness that comes with helplessness and sadness very well – I could see the slouch in his shoulders in the later years and I could hear the resign in his highly-registered voice which comes from some kind of passivity … and it made me FEEL.
The dialogue is flawless: David treading on eggshells around Nic’s easily triggered and highly emotional character. Nic says, “You don’t like who I am now.” “I unconditionally love and support you Nicky,” is what you plead with David to say; instead, “Who are you, Nic?” ‘THIS IS ME DAD, THIS IS WHO I AM’. Heartbreaking.
The construction of the film – its jumping forwards and backwards in time – does something to replicate the repetitiveness of drug abuse, recovery and relapse. At times, however, these editing choices are not executed with quite enough subtlety, and it interferes with the narrative. Grungy music plays over the film’s most chaotic scenes quite effectively, creating a sense of panic – suddenly I’m gritting my teeth and wincing my eyes. For the first time, spectatorship takes on an active role inside of imagination, and it’s all very exciting.
Beautiful Boy reminded me of my dad. If Steve and Timmy weren’t so damn good and their relationship so identifiable, I would have been a ship lost at sea during this film. They were my lighthouse in a storm.
‘Beautiful Boy played as part of Leeds International Film Festival and hits selected UK cinemas from 11 December