”When you mourn the living, that’s a hard way to live.”
With addiction come consequences – consequences that not only affect the user but also everyone around him or her. Beautiful Boy seems to want to scream that message out into the world, and mostly it does succeed with that mission.
The film, starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet as father and son, is based on the true story of David and Nic Sheff. The real-life Sheffs have both written their own memoirs about the experience of Nic’s addiction to drugs and alcohol – Beautiful Boy and Tweak, which the film naturally and relatively accurately, has been based on.
Nowadays there are many interviews with Nic and David Sheff available just through a quick Google search, and the words from Nic in one of them made by ABC news stayed with me when watching this film. He’s been sober for 8 years now and explained how this film “in a way is like a gift that the filmmakers gave to me, just to remind me that each and every day I should be so grateful, and I am.”
His words may seem bleak and mainstream, but after watching on screen-David desperately remind both himself and his son about how “Relapsing is part of recovery” for 2 hours, I don’t get out of the cinema comforted by a happy ending. Instead, I am convinced about how hard of a journey it is to get out of an addiction and that the real-life Nic is truly right to be grateful.
Unlike many other films about addiction, this one doesn’t recount a clear shift in “before and after the drugs”. The Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen fuses scenes from the storyline, with David’s memories of Nic as a kid. This is done in a way that could be relatable and smart but instead results in confusion. When David drives around looking for Nic on the streets after he runs away from rehab, I suddenly find myself wondering why the young Nic is in the car, and so it continues a couple of times before I figure it out.
One of the factors that may have gotten me distracted from the car ride was the use of music that in almost an annoying, but oh so effective way, many times bridged over scenes and almost took over the story. When David watches his younger kids sing at a school event, the sound of waves blocks everything else out, and it’s easy to understand that his thoughts are somewhere else worrying about Nic. The same effect is created when Nic is at the bottom of his addiction and a loud mix of buzzing techno music makes it hard to keep the focus forward towards a way out and a happy ending.
Watching this film was tough, but necessary. It screamed its message out loud and clear, but maybe more importantly gave both David and Nic Sheff a chance to combine their stories.