Friday 7 September 2018

BEAUTIFUL BOY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2018 - Devastating Addiction Drama

Beautiful Boy (2018)
Dir. Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There is a long history of films dealing with the illness of drug addiction. The best work tends to avoid earnestness and some of my favourites either capture the hallucinogenic properties of the disease itself (Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas might be the ultimate in this respect) or dramatically (or even melodramatically) chart the sufferings of those afflicted in a realistic (or Neo-realistic) fashion (Jerry Schatzberg's The Panic in Needle Park, Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy and Otto Preminger's The Man With The Golden Arm all chart "realism" most effectively, and affectingly). A bonus is when the films can do both as in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream and Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy.

A great new film manages to do both, but not in ways one might expect. With the almost unbearably harrowing Beautiful Boy, Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) makes his English language debut with this film adaptation of two published non-fiction accounts of addiction that each provide perspectives from the "outsider" looking in and the "insider" looking out. Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff have been expertly adapted into a screenplay written by Luke Davies and Van Groeningen.

Telling the story of New York Times journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) and his relationship with teenage son Nicholas (Timothée Chalamet), Beautiful Boy charts the journey of both men through a grim and gripping rollercoaster ride through crystal meth addiction (in addition to copious ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana use). We begin with the boy's disappearance and his eventual return into his Dad's home, clearly under the influence of drug use. Nicholas agrees to a stay in a rehab clinic, but once he is released to a halfway house, the young boy's abuse of drugs increases exponentially. We proceed through a harrowing, almost cat-and-mouse game of parental care, the child's acquiescence and continual downfall. Eventually, tough-love must come into play.

Anyone who has experienced and/or witnessed the addiction of someone close will relate to this film, however, the picture's ultimate power is that it moves well beyond simple recognition and is ultimately a story of father-son love. Carrell and Chalamet deliver alternately grim and sensitive performances. Chalamet in particular captures the jittery telltale signs of meth addiction and the script beautifully charts the behaviour and mindset of addiction as it continually takes grip upon the boy's psyche.

Beautiful Boy never offers pat answers or explanations. That might be its ultimate power. It also is set with the world of a fairly affluent family unit. Some might find this a tad disingenuous, but frankly, addiction goes so far beyond class lines. It can happen to anyone, anytime and that the story is told against a bourgeois backdrop hammers home just how horrible a disease addiction is. In fact, one wonders, both during and after, about its effects upon all those afflicted with it no matter what their class or station.

And of course, it's impossible to ignore the fact that the film's title is derived from the song "Beautiful Boy", John Lennon's soulful, loving, and within the context of this film (and an element of the story itself), absolutely heartbreaking melody and lyrics.

Among the evocative lyrics in the song, one resonates both during and long after the film is over: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Oh indeed. Life happens and sometimes the best laid plans either get in the way or are unattainable. Love, understanding and perseverance go a long way, but with the disease of addiction, there are never, ever any guarantees.

The Film Corner Rating: ***** 5-Stars

Beautiful Boy is a TIFF 2018 Gala Presentation.