The film Beautiful Boy follows Nicolas Sheff, a promising teenage student, as he falls into the pitfalls of addiction. The film was first screened at TIFF 2018 and sheds light on a topic that is taboo but couldn’t be more important for the youth of today. Mainstream television and media is often quick to demonize drug abusers.
The film often flips from past to present but within the same location, illustrating the contrast. One scene shows a young Nicolas (Timothée Chalamet) belting the lyrics to a classic out of the car as his father David (Steve Carell) laughs with him. The next scene shows the older Nicholas staring out the window of the car in silence only for them to stop the car because he has to vomit.
Still, Nicolas has managed to get into all six colleges of his choice and remain editor of the school newspaper. But despite his achievements, David can’t help but notice these changes. Things escalate when he sees an obviously intoxicated and high Nicolas standing in the kitchen. Nicolas finally breaks down revealing that he has experimented with almost every drug in the market and especially loves meth. David is insensitive and screams at him for being so dumb. David has clearly built his own image of Nicolas and is shocked to realize the truth.
David instantly looks for help to fix his son. He goes through every possible avenue to save his son. He doesn’t waver even after being told by a doctor that the chances for Nicolas to recover from a meth addiction are extremely low. He even goes to the extreme of sniffing meth himself in hopes of understanding Nicolas better. In the end, David is helpless and feels like he can’t do anything for his son.
Nicolas at one point is completely emotionally numb and disconnected from reality. The film touched on this idea of mourning the living. Nicolas, when stuck in this vicious cycle of addiction, becomes dead. The drugs control his every thought and action. He behaves thoughtlessly not caring who he hurts to get his next fix.
This inner battle between him and the drugs is a constant force. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses. The times he wins are amazing—he is able to accomplish so much, and all his relationships greatly improve. Those times where he relapses, he is filled with misery, regret, and self-hate. The latter reaction can often be the incentive to using again which creates a domino effect. Through drugs, Nicolas was trying to fill a void, but at his core felt this emptiness. He expressed that his world was once black and white, but drugs allowed him to see color (Davies, 2018). As an artist and writer, this probably fascinated him.
Timothée Chalamet’s performance is what made this film. The range of emotions he was able to express is astounding. He was able to embody all the small details and habits of a meth addict perfectly. Steve Carell also does a magnificent job as the father. Many people complain that his personality was too comedic for the role. Often in films, we see the typical father who is somber and serious. However, I disagree as I think he felt more like a real person this way. In fact, the way he was using comedy as a coping mechanism really resonated with me. It’s not always the easiest to express emotion and vulnerability.
A heartbreaking but memorable scene is when Nicolas overdoses in the washroom stall. It’s worth mentioning this is also the point where David gives up on him, stating he will not help him anymore. Nicolas nearly dies and barely makes it out alive. The last scene of the movie pans to Nicolas crying as his father holds his back. The ending is uncertain and makes you think he could possibly relapse again. Often addiction films end happily, concluding with a success story. This film showcases the gritty reality to recovery and the natural tendency of human error.