Beautiful Boy

David Sheff (Steve Carell) searches LA’s mean streets high and low for his methamphetamine-addicted son Nic (Timothee Chalamet). It is a scene that he has lived through many times before and the reason he does so is to save the life of his “Beautiful Boy.”

Laura's Review: C+

When his eighteen year-old son from his first marriage, Nicholas (Timothée Chalamet), disappears for two days, David Sheff (Steve Carell) goes out of his mind with worry. The boy who returns with a broken headlight just wants to sleep, but David knows it is time to take drastic steps if he is to save his "Beautiful Boy." Cowriter (with Luke Davies)/director Felix Van Groeningen's Belgian Oscar nominee "The Broken Circle Breakdown" told the devastating tale of a young family torn apart by differing beliefs in the face of a child's illness. The story slid into and out of different timelines. Music was integral. It is a great film. Now, adapting David and Nic Sheff's memoirs for his English language debut, Van Groeningen takes on similar themes with a similar style but the result is nowhere near as satisfying, despite strong performances, production design and a fantastic soundtrack. Where his 2013 film had a definitive beginning and end within its circular storytelling, this one seems to exist on one plane and while that film's editor Nico Leunen never lost us within shifting time frames, this time out things are not always as clear. Despite instances of overdosing, one comes away from the film feeling that events have been sugar coated, our view of Nic's experiences never as degrading as one imagines they would be. The Sheffs live a privileged, artistic life in Marin County, David a freelance magazine writer for such publications as The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, his second wife, Karen Barbour (Maura Tierney), an artist. They have two much younger, beautiful blonde children, Jasper (Christian Convery) and Daisy (Oakley Bull), who adore their older half brother, as does his stepmother. David and Nic are unusually close, former surfing buddies bound by their love of literature, writing and music. One joyous flashback features Dave's enjoyment of his son's headbanging sing-along to Nirvana's 'Territorial Pissing' as they drive along a coastal highway. Another shows Dave's terror when his son disappears amidst waves that have slowed his own progress. A red flag goes up when Nic informs Dave and Karen that he wishes to extend his San Francisco rehab by becoming independent in a halfway house, delaying college for a job. Assured of his progress, they agree, but we'll learn from a later sponsor (Andre Royo) that crystal meth addiction has a single digit success rate in rehab facilities. Sure enough, Dave receives a call that his son has disappeared and he drives into the city, eventually finding his son in an alley, soaked to the bone in driving rain. Nic feels terrible, cleans up for a while, then relapses, 'a part of recovery,' Dave is told. He goes to college for a while, meets a girl (Stefanie Scott) and all seems well until he's tempted by a prescription bottle in her family's bathroom. He cavorts with his siblings in a lawn sprinkler, delighting his dad, then fails to appear for their school event, his dad seeing his younger children but not really registering them. Van Groeningen does a good job illustrating how one addiction consumes everything, affecting not only the Sheff family, but Nic's biological mother Vicki (Amy Ryan, in for an 'Office' reunion), an L.A. businesswoman. But although Chalamet convincingly morphs from a charming young man to manic paranoia or blissed out stupor, we get a better idea of what he's going through from Dave reading his journal than anything we witness, a cycle of sobriety, followed by a lapse, exacerbated by the low self regard brought on by the lapse and ensuing behavior. Carell alternates between glowing love for his son and frantic worry before eventually numbing into resignation. 'You can't save an addict,' he tells Vicki. "Beautiful Boy" also stars "Short Term 12's" Kaitlyn Dever as a girlfriend of Nic's who follows him down the rabbit hole and almost loses her life. Cinematographer Ruben Impens enjoys the California sunshine, darkened interiors, but never squalor, expressing Nic's addition. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Sigur Rós, Neil Young, David Bowie, John Coltrane, Mogwai and a surprisingly moving use of 'Sunrise, Sunset' sung by Perry Como. If only the movie itself were so moving. Instead it wears us down. Grade:

Robin's Review: C+

Films about addiction have probably been around since the early days of celluloid and quite a few come to mind – “Reefer Madness (1936)” showed us the ravages caused by marijuana, causing quite a brouhaha; “The Lost Weekend (1946)” and “The Days of Wine and Roses (1962)” displayed the ruin by alcohol; and, drug addiction movies are too many to list – though “Sid and Nancy (1986)” deserves high mention. “Beautiful Boy,” as I said, deals with meth addiction and is told through the dual adaptation of David Sheff’s memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s Addiction, and his son Nic’s, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. Director Felix Van Groeningen, with co-scribe Like Davies, adapt the father-son stories into an amalgamate of the two, though the focus is primarily on David and his struggle with his son’s year’s long addiction to just about every drug he could find. In typical fashion, the filmmakers use copious amount of flashbacks to tell the Sheff family saga. And this is the main problem I had with the structure of the storytelling in “Beautiful Boy.” The flashes back to when Nic is a child of various ages are easy to figure out, of course. But when the older Nic, the addicted one, is shown in those back flashes, it is hard to figure out if it is the present or something that happened earlier. There is little delineation between now-Nic and recent-past-Nic so I spent too much time figuring out just “when” I am in the story. This is going to be touted during the upcoming awards season with Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet getting kudos for their performances. And those performances are fine but I never empathized, really, with either character. There is some spark missing that would make the film a step above. Maybe they could take another stab at editing?