BEIRUT: With all the hype surrounding the massive blockbusters due for release as 2018 draws to a close, it was nice to get away and witness an intimate indie film about pain, heartache, and one family’s struggle in dealing with addiction.
Based on Nic Sheff’s memoir TWEAK, and David Sheff’s BEAUTIFUL BOY, the film, which shares its title with that of David’s book, is a blended narrative – a sum of two parts – that follows the Sheff family, but more importantly David and Nic’s relationship with each other and with addiction.
The film, helmed by Felix van Groeningen, is as grounded in reality, as it is visually poetic and profound.
Relying mostly on his actors, van Groeningen pays such close attention to every detail in the film, shedding light on the depth of his understanding of the nuances of human behavior.
Visually, the film is breathtaking.
While playing with metaphor and irony, van Groeningen’s mise-en-scene is layered and complex, in terms of how a scene is framed or how it is lit.
BEAUTIFUL BOY’s narrative structure mimics the way memory works with every flashback or flashforward having strong emotional logic.
The screenplay, written by Luke Davies, chronicles a deeply emotional experience for son and father alike, while avoiding passing judgment on either of them.
It is almost painful in its depiction of a father and a son who are both struggling in their own way and facing their inner-most fear of failing each other.
What stands out the most about the narrative, however, is how it poses a lot of important questions but does not try to answer all of them, leaving the spectator to decide and put the pieces together while witnessing the film.
Ultimately, the film is an intricate push and pull of trust and love and betrayal, which parallels the merciless circuitous life cycle of an addict and his father’s relentless fight to save him.
From the moment he started gracing the screen, Timothée Chalamet became one to watch, and his latest performance in BEAUTIFUL BOY only builds on this projection.
He is raw, calculated, yet utterly physically and emotionally vulnerable.
He is able to play an addict in such a way that makes it extremely difficult for the audience not to feel empathy for him, all the while understanding the damage and pain he is causing his family, yet never once hating him for doing it.
On the contrary, the audience ends up feeling helpless – and that is a very powerful emotion for a director to place onto his audience.
Steve Carell proves once more that he is a force not to be reckoned with.
With very little dialogue, he finds an extraordinary range of human emotion, and more importantly the urgency of a father who is desperately trying to both understand and save his son.
There are scenes of utmost silence that seem to last an era, yet somehow that era is not enough as the audience is lost within the eyes of Steve Carell and/or Timothée Chalamet.
The film’s two mothers played by Amy Ryan, and Maura Tierney, both don’t have that much screen time compared to Carell and Chalamet, yet have such an impact on the narrative and the film overall that their time on screen becomes trivial.
BEAUTIFUL BOY’s soundscape is nothing short of powerful.
From the song selection, to the score itself, the choices made only add to the film’s overall experience, emphasizing narrative sequences, character memories, as well as a character’s inner dialogue.
BEAUTIFUL BOY feels like a window onto the disease of addiction in a way that audiences haven’t seen before.
What makes it truly special is its optimistic portrayal of a father and son held together by a love that transcends their problems.
Be it the way it is beautifully shot, or its poetic juxtaposition of images, themes, and narrative, this film is one that will be remembered and one that will become a catalyst of many conversations.
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