Two of the biggest dramatic acting revelations of this decade have been Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. The two actors have been paired up in the addiction drama Beautiful Boy, bringing us two of the greatest performances of the year.
Beautiful Boy is based on two memoirs. One is from David Sheff (Steve Carell) the wealthy father of a junkie boy named Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet), Nic wrote the second memoir. The film looks at how they both suffered from Nic’s addiction and how their father-son bond tittered on severing.
Even though the film is based on a true story, it feels structured as a star vehicle for these two great actors. They both get to shine in multiple moments, Chalamet bringing a sense of realism to his drug trips, and an equal sense of desperation to his attempts to rehabilitate himself. Carell meanwhile gets the quieter of the roles, with most of the acting being a show of restraint, both on emotions and actions. Nevertheless the actors are able to show a true bond between one another, so that we stop seeing film actors and end up looking at two suffering souls.
Even though the stars in this film shine (there is a great supporting turn by Maura Tierney) the plot itself is something else. Director Felix von Groeningen brings a proper darkness to this drug story so that viewers are frightened more than saddened by the end of the film. However, von Groeningen gets muddled up in his editing and plot choices; the story essentially is melding two different memoirs and it ends up feeling incredibly suffocating. The result is that each story’s impact is blunted; choosing one would have either focused the angst of the father or exploited the descent of the son. The editing itself is a bit messy too, by jumping into flashbacks randomly and unnecessarily when the background of each character had already been established; this causes certain disorientation for the audience, as we can’t tell the chronology of the story apart. By the end of this film each viewer will have a different timeline for the characters.
The film also feels too long. This is probably effected by bad editing and the stuffing of two memoirs together, but there was also a sense of redundancy after the first hour. The first half of this film is strong in itself, it gives us a complete arc for each character, but the second half is simply repeating the same actions, showing Nic relapsing again and again. While this does accurately reflect the hopeless repetition that junkies suffer in their addictions, it isn’t cause for much intrigue or entertainment. The result is a feeling that this film is an hour too long; a more compact and clear story would have gotten the same urgent discouraging message and performances across.
Beautiful Boy is a great vehicle to carry two great performances from excelling dramatic actors. However, a messy structure, editing, and story dull the impact of what could have been a searing and robust film.