I am fully aware that this isn’t a forgotten classic, one of the world’s best films from movie history so doesn’t necessarily fit into the blog theme that I’m going for. It is, however, festival season in the film world and I was lucky enough to go the UK premiere of Beautiful Boy last night at the BFI London Film Festival. It’s not out yet in the United Kingdom, but I felt compelled to write about it. It’s the first film I’ve seen at the festival so far but it really stood out amongst other films I’ve seen in the past few months as a moving real life tale of addiction.
Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy is a powerful portrayal of a young, beautiful, smart boy, Nic Sheff, played by Timothée Chalamet and his father, David Sheff, played by Steve Carell. Nic’s mother and father are divorced but he lives with and has a wonderful relationship with his father’s new wife and little half brother and sister. The story follows their life over a year during their darkest time when Nic succumbs to addiction. It shows what they go through and how their lives have been dramatically impacted and consumed by drug addiction. The film is adapted from 2 memoirs, one named ‘Beautiful Boy’, by David Sheff, the other named ‘Tweak‘ by Nic Sheff. It contrasts the two sides of the story, a son who is addicted to all sorts of drugs, and the father’s experience of desperately trying to help his son get clean foscusing on their relationship throughout.
The film opens your eyes to some critical issues that normal people who are not touched by addiction may not see or acknowledge. There is a huge amount of young people in the world that are suffering and going through similar things. It demonstrates how it impacts, not only your life, but the lives of those around you, in particular your family.
Beautiful Boy explores various themes that the family were going through as it focused on the different sides of the addiction. How the father heart wrenchingly struggles with maintaining the good friendship he had with his son growing up. As his son gets consumed further by drugs, Nic’s father is grasping at straws; desperate to be the person that keeps his son alive and back on the right path. The film is edited in such a way that it goes forwards and backwards in time. It dives right into the situation at the start and follows their path which isn’t easy. It doesn’t have a start, middle and end and is a bit messy reflecting the lack of closure to their situation. It’s doesn’t sugar coat what’s going on and shows the reality of such situation.
One part of the film, which I don’t want to spoil with the details, was a real turning point in Steve Carell’s character’s experience, where he and his new wife come to terms with dealing with the fact that they cannot help their son regardless of how much they love him. It needs to be on their terms; the addict needs to want your help, really want your help, before you can help them. Until this point, you assume Nic’s step mother, Karen, played by Maura Tierney is emotionally distant. It reinforces just how much she does care, and how she is trying not to let it impact her family and keep everything stable. The next scene shows how it is Karen that is truly helping David come to terms with his capacity to help, and how he actually cannot help his son.
The film is so beautifully conceived that throughout the viewer gets incredibly invested in the characters and it’s heartbreaking watching them go through it. Whatever they face you desperately want them to get out the other side and get better and overcome what they are facing and want them to work through it together. The audience is made to feel exactly how David Sheff must feel when his son is involved. The desperation, despair and intense sadness.
Crystal meth is the drug that is most in the news and prevalent at the moment, and the one that seems to feature throughout, even though Nic’s heroin addiction and multiple other drug usage is also widespread. It does gloss over some of the individual drug experiences but the film is truly about their relationship, not just about the devastating physical affects of drugs. It particularly attempts to educate the viewer in the health and social impacts of crystal meth on the individual and their relationships.
It’s been about 10 years in production since the producers, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt and Jeremy Kleiner knew they wanted to make this film. I’m pleased they saw it through to the end and that it was made in such a beautiful, compelling way. I wanted to write about this because it’s a film I think everyone should see when it comes out. It’s a brutally honest film about addiction, and a father and son’s experiences with the whole journey that they face together and the desperate tragedy of it all. It will be a classic in 50 years time, which I hope will feature on best films lists. I believe it will always be relevant as there will always be people struggling with addiction in some capacity.
Beautiful Boy is already in cinemas in the USA, and comes out in cinemas in the UK (I believe) on 18th January 2019 (sorry!).
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