Adapted from a pair of father-son memoirs, director Felix Van Graehingen’s Beautiful Boy is about Nic (Timothée Chalamet), a charismatic, bright, young man who reveals that he’s been experimenting with marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, and acid, but consistently uses crystal meth. The film explores not only Nic’s drug use, but the profound effect his use has on his family. The focus on the effect of addiction on those close to him, and the father-son relationship between Nic and his father, David (Steve Carell) is what sets Beautiful Boy apart. The dual perspectives of Nic and David are complicated; David flip-flops between trying to help his son and shutting him out to protect the rest of the family. On the other hand, Nic is tormented by the depths of his addiction and his desire to get clean. The film examines not only drug addiction, but the responsibilities and limitations of parenthood.
Chalamet beautifully embodies all of the convoluted emotions that stem from drug abuse, from anger and hostility, to fear and remorse. Chalamet’s raw, vulnerable performance turns Nic’s pain into a tangible feeling, one that lingers with the audience after the credits roll. While Chalamet shines in his role, Carrell stands in his shadow. He is a sympathetic and sensitive character, but during more serious scenes, he can come off as disconnected and ingenuine when contrasted against Chalamet’s performance. This is evident early on in the film, when Nic reveals to David all the drugs he’s abused and ultimately, his addiction to meth. Chalamet shows how tormented Nic is, with a defeated demeanor, tear-rimmed eyes, and shaky words. Carrell, however, inserts little emotion into the scene and falls short.
Beautiful Boy is profound because it doesn’t simplify. It shows exactly how complex the cycle of recovery and relapse can be. Graehingen’s closing shot showcases this. There is no closure in the film. It simply ends with a wide shot of Nic and David sitting in lawn chairs at a rehabilitation facility. Nic is sobbing. No happy ending. Just a father and son trying to mend their relationship, and a young man, deciding to try recovery again.