What does the face of drug addiction look like in the United States? Is it the young white person who lives in an affluent neighborhood or the minority who lives off welfare and in the projects? The truth is that drug addiction has no barriers; it can affect anyone who is susceptible to the lures of euphoria and escape. It doesn’t necessarily mean only depressed and lonely people use; no, it affects happy people who seem to have idyllic lives as well. Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) had it all, he grew up in Marin County (an affluent area north of San Francisco), someone who was seemingly content, had a normal upbringing with loving parents and siblings, and all the opportunities that the world could offer were waiting at his fingertips. In the film Beautiful Boy, directed by Felix Van Groeningen, we experience a realistic journey of drug addiction and a father’s relentless fight to save his son’s life.
Set in the early 2000’s, David Sheff (Steve Carell), a prominent magazine writer, tries to help his son Nic conquer his addiction. He is constantly glued to his phone, waiting for that phone call from Nic or from someone who knows his whereabouts. He frantically searches on the internet for some shred of knowledge about methamphetamine addiction. He wants to understand how meth is affecting his son’s brain, how he can help restore his son’s failing nerve endings; he wants some information that will tell him what to do to help his son. We even see that he is willing to shell out thousands of dollars, at one point he is quoted forty-thousand dollars for a drug rehab stay, and Sheff doesn’t blink an eye.
This movie does not portray drug addiction like Requiem for a Dream or Trainspotting, we do not see Nic downward spiral to that extent or take a joy ride through what drugs can feel like through the lens of Hollywood. You know when they show a person’s eyeballs dilate, all while psychedelic music plays in the background, none of that happens here.
Instead this film is the journey of what drug addiction really looks like; it’s one where a person gets clean, and they seem to be riding the high that is sobriety, and the person’s family believes wholeheartedly that the person will stay clean, but then they relapse. They get clean again, and they relapse again, the cycle continues ad nauseum to the point where the family who is trying to help the junkie feels defeated and crushed. Will they ever get better? Is my son, daughter, mom, dad (insert anyone), still inside there? And when the family sees a glimmer of their old self come through, that is what keeps them going to save that person.
I have seen it first hand in my family, I have seen people try to jump out of windows to fight the detox, festering heroin wounds, and loving people turn into mean and monstrous people on drugs. I will never forget some of these memories, but I have also seen people come out on the other side. I have seen them stay clean and I have also seen others who relapse again and again to this day and fall back into old patterns. This is one of the few movies I have ever seen that has really shown that side of drug addiction. It isn’t cool, it isn’t funny, or hip, it takes a person’s soul day by day, but as a family we also hope for the best for our loved ones. We hope that they will get better and deep down inside, we know that they can. David embodied that sentiment and Nic personified the charming addict.
Chalamet was extraordinary, we felt compassion for him, and could see the moments when he was clean and probably thinking about drugs. You could seem him coming out of his skin, without doing it so literally. His acting showed layers of emotion and depth. One I haven’t seen in a long time, in fact I kept thinking throughout the film, that Nic Sheff would have been the role that young Leonardo DiCaprio would have wanted to play. But now we have Chamalet, a new guard of young actors is coming through, and he will be at the forefront for years to come.
Carell was phenomenal, and as an actor we see a different side of him. No longer the quirky Michael Scott persona that many people remember him as, here we see him as a multi-dimensional character. One minute he is fighting for his son’s life, another he makes a bold choice to tell him that he cannot enable him anymore. A father lost in his head, constantly thinking of his son, Carrell was able to portray that emotion with ease. At his younger child’s play, we see him look at their faces, relish their innocence, and know that he has lost a part of his son.
Both Chamalet and Carrell gave Oscar-worthy performances and will be in the running for this year’s Oscars race. This is a movie you cannot miss, and one that will leave indelible mark on your psyche and make you appreciate your loved ones even more.