You could be mistaken for thinking you are about to view a comedy, when first catching sight of Steve Carell in the opening scene of Beautiful Boy, but this film is anything but comedic. Film critic Ali Plumb describes the film as a ‘heavy, interesting, dark, truthful portrayal of a real life story of a young addict’ and his father. It’s tough and intense, illustrating how drug addiction has no race, gender or class and can affect anyone.
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen and made through Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B, the film explores the relationship between father David, (Steve Carell) and son Nic (Timothée Chalamet). The film is based on two memoirs: Beautiful Boy, written by the father and Tweak, written by the son; the film combines both perspectives. David is the protagonist; although we see the story through his lens, both his and Nic’s viewpoints are explored. Nic has a loving family home, is getting good grades at school and is part of the polo team. His road to destruction appears to come out of nowhere, slowly creeping up on him to become a serious problem.
The binary opposites of acceptance and denial are explored through David’s character; he struggles with how he can help his son. David sings the John Lennon song of the same title to the infant Nic: ‘Close your eyes. Have no fear. The monster's gone. He’s on the run and your Daddy’s here’. Unfortunately in adulthood, the reality is the monster has taken the form of drug addiction and this is something even David cannot protect his son from. David and his wife (Amy Ryan) find themselves in a support group, where they are introduced to the Three C’s: ‘Didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it’. David struggles to accept this, as his flashbacks to Nic’s childhood illustrate: he grieves for a son he has already lost and comes to terms with his limitations in helping the adult Nic.
The slow, stuffy and at times stagnant pace of the film reflects how Nic feels about his father: suffocated, controlled and a constant disappointment. He is frustrated with David for not accepting him with his addiction. This also mirrors Nic’s relationship with his addiction and the monotonous cycle he finds himself in. In one shot, Nic is driving through a dark tunnel, with flashing lights producing a disorientating feeling, similar to the drugs. He still keeps on driving through, towards the literal light at the end of the tunnel, the metaphorical light being the love of his family. The film illustrates that the journey might be long and slow, but conveys a sense of hope.
Colour from the natural surroundings is juxtaposed with the darkened realities of drug addition. Nic is graphically shown injecting himself with drugs. In a BBC Radio 1 Screen Time interview, Timothée expresses the film is not uplifting: it highlights a serious problem in young communities within
Some may come away dissatisfied with no ultimate conclusion or exhausted by the slow, agonizing plot unfolding. Others may see through this dark and truthful portrayal of addiction, towards the light, which comes through, in the depth of love for a son by his father.