‘Beautiful Boy’: Is it All that Beautiful?

Drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the United States for those under 50 years old. While this fact may seem startling, it serves as the basis for an important question: how have we let this happen? Instead of offering more help to addicts and their families, society sweeps them under the rug of shame.

Beautiful Boy, starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell, is a movie based on the memoirs of both father and son, David and Nic Sheff, that highlight the life of a young man’s journey through Methamphetamine and Heroin addiction and how it tore his family apart.

Being a lover of all things Timothée Chalamet, notably for his ability to transform into characters so different from himself, I stumbled over the details of this movie a few months ago after watching Hot Summer Nights, which Chalamet also played the lead role in. I began searching for upcoming movies he would be starring in next and was immediately intrigued when I found Beautiful Boy.

I’m not a huge fan of Steve Carell (sorry to all fans of The Office), mostly because seeing him in a serious role feels so foreign to me. I personally think he is better as a comedian, so I was skeptical of how the relationship between his and Timothée’s characters would interact since their resumes are so different.

Chalamet plays the main character, Nic Sheff, who becomes addicted to Meth and Heroin throughout his teenage and young adult years. Carell plays Nic’s dad, David Sheff, who tirelessly works to understand what his son must be going through to adopt such a dangerous lifestyle.

I was pleasantly surprised to see both Chalamet and Carell develop a sincere bond on screen that made you really empathize with them. The film was very raw, leaving in the most painful details about addiction and how seriously vile it can be. There were scenes where you see Nic completely strung out after a drug bender that leaves you feeling sick to your stomach.

From the perspective of the family, you see Nic’s father is struggling with helping his son while raising Nic’s two younger siblings with his wife. There comes a point where David even goes as far as trying meth himself, just to comprehend what his son is going through. What David is then forced to face is the daunting truth that there is nothing he can do for his son if he doesn’t want to change. He has to be there for his family who needs him and in return, he must let Nic make his own decisions.

Then perspectives change and you see Nic navigate through his adolescent years from going in and out of 12-step rehab programs to venturing into the world of college. What’s so jarring about Nic’s life in college is the averageness of his university experience compared to him learning to cook meth while his roommate is away, gaining his first experiences shooting up heroin.

Nic struggles to stay sober, he begins stealing money from his parents and friends, as well as lying to the ones he loves to hide his continuing relapses. He finds himself at a stand-still when he drops out of college, starts living on the street and almost loses his girlfriend to a meth overdose. He has lost all respect from his family and he has to fend for himself, quickly realizing he might actually have to make a lifestyle change.

After making it through most of the movie having not shed a tear, a scene emerges showing Nic sitting in the cafe where he and his dad used to go together and eat. He’s scribbling in a notebook when suddenly he gets up, leaves it on the table and heads for the bathroom. He sits down in a stall and begins cooking up the rest of the meth he has with him before filling a syringe and pushing the liquid into his arm.

His arm is blistered and raw and he remains calm before slowly laying on the tile floor and overdosing. In the background, soft opera music plays as scenes flash between his dad in the present day to his childhood memories. At that moment, I was filled with so much emotion that I couldn’t help but cry. It all felt too real.

What I love so much about the film is it makes you understand that addicts don’t choose to be addicts. Addiction is a disease and no matter how much those affected wish to stop, using drugs becomes second nature. It is painful to watch someone who is so full of life throw away all they’ve worked for just to be temporarily distracted from their internal struggles.

It seems as though directors focus solely on the addict when it comes to these kinds of movies and they cycle through the same pattern of them getting clean and relapsing again over and over without any real plot or message. Beautiful Boy’s director, Academy Award winner Felix Van Groeningen, brings a fresh perspective showing not only the challenges of the addict but the shattering effects it has on the people around them.

For Groeningen, who is from Belgium, this is his first English language film. He seamlessly transitions between perspectives throughout the movie, creating a surreal experience for the viewers that makes you feel as if you are there.  

Nic has a lot of guilt and shame that has built up over time. He doesn’t want to be behaving the way he is. He wants a good life, but he just can’t seem to shake the need to chase the high. One of the most important aspects of drug culture the film portrays is there doesn’t need to be significant trauma or hardship in someone’s life for them to decide to turn to drugs. Sometimes drugs find you and that’s how these toxic situations start.

There’s a lot of things Beautiful Boy could have gotten wrong about addiction, but it didn’t. The film is unbelievably depressing but it has you walk away having learned that addiction is never going to be smooth sailing for those involved.

Ultimately, the message of the film is how paramount your life is and although life can be continuously difficult there is a way to see things through. Beautiful Boy faultlessly portrays the life of a struggling addict and comes to show there won’t always be a happy ending for everyone.