“Beautiful Boy” Depicts Pain of Addiction

What It Lacked in Direction, It Made Up in Emotion


Ada Carter

Though poignantly tragic, Beautiful Boy has its weak moments. Graphic Credit: Ada Carter

Willa Frank, Contributing Writer

Falcon rating: 4.5/5

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy is a poignant yet heartbreaking illustration of the opioid crisis in America today. The movie was moving at times, but not life-changing. Starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell, the film emphasizes the father-son bond and how love can override logic.

Nic Sheff (Chalamet) is an intelligent high school student who quickly drifts away from his father and spirals into addiction. David Sheff (Carell) struggles to understand why his brilliant eldest son has changed so much without him even recognizing it. More than anything, David wants to help his son, but he struggles to reach him—both physically and emotionally—throughout the process.

Chalamet was fantastic. On screen, he truly became Nic Sheff in another compelling performance. In the past year, he has played three distinct roles in Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, and now Beautiful Boy, each with a now-dependable presence. Nic wants to overcome his addiction, but he is in so deep that “want” is not enough. At several points in the story, Nic appears to find himself and to overcome his disease. However, there is always something to draw him back down into the world that will haunt him forever, which is truly heart-wrenching to watch.

Carell, who usually plays comedic roles, lacked authenticity at moments. David Sheff is a well-designed character made complex by his curiosity not just to help his son but to understand his addiction, but Carell fails to fully convey David’s multilayered perspective. For instance, as David’s first child, Nic has always been especially close with David. Instead of the traditional “I love you,” David and Nic often say “everything” in reference to the idea that Nic means more to David than everything else in the world. However, Carell and Chalamet lack the chemistry on screen that is so carefully illustrated in the script of the film.

Beautiful Boy drags the audience through an emotional roller coaster.”

Van Groeningen has created a movie centralized around the opioid crisis, but he added extra layers that, while could have strengthened the movie, really just clouded the message. For example, the film explores the complexity of helping a child of divorce. David Sheff is remarried and not on great terms with his ex-wife. Both parents—as well as David’s second wife—struggle to help their son and to work together, but this thread of the story has a meek ending in which Nic’s parents simply acknowledge each other to be good parents and stop blaming each other for their son’s addiction.

To the film’s credit, Beautiful Boy drags the audience through an emotional roller coaster of hope, joy, and pain that moved me to tears at several points throughout the movie. As the story progressed, I found myself feeling imbued by the hopelessness of David and the aimless sadness of Nic. I found the plot frustrating to watch, but I think that speaks to Van Groeningen’s success in emphasizing the destructiveness of drugs, especially among America’s youth. This theme is especially powerful and important to understand as a high schooler. For this reason, I would definitely recommend seeing Beautiful Boy, despite its weaker moments.


This piece also appears in our November 2018 print edition.