Standout performances by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet make Beautiful Boy worthwhile and earmark it as Oscar material. It also has the novelty of being adapted from dual best-selling memoirs, Beautiful Boy by journalist David Sheff and Tweak by his son Nic Sheff. This would seem to promise fresh insights into the hell and heartbreak of addiction, but there is little here we haven’t seen before. The film is earnest but long and redundant. It feels like medicine that’s supposed to be good for us but lacks any redeeming flavor.
Carell has proven himself a solid dramatic actor by now. He gives a moving performance as a father who is desperate to help his teenage son—who is sadly past the point of intervention. Chalamet, who made such a splash last year in Call Me By Your Name, spares nothing in his characterization of a young man who loves his family but is lost in the downward spiral of addiction.
Flemish director Felix van Groeningen, who made his mark internationally with The Broken Circle Breakdown—another downbeat, nonlinear drama of a family in crisis. He has a firm grasp of the material (which he adapted for the screen with Luke Davies) but gets lost somewhere along the way. One scene of the son hitting rock bottom on the streets of San Francisco would be sufficient, but not for this filmmaker.
Fortunately, his two highly capable stars are supported by Maura Tierney, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Ryan, and in one scene apiece, Lisagay Hamilton and Timothy Hutton. They bring conviction to their performances and help van Groeningen to keep this from feeling like a glossy Hollywood movie. (It was filmed, in part, in beautiful Marin County, California, where the Sheff family actually lived.)
The story is heartbreaking, especially for a parent, but even the most empathetic viewer may find this well-meaning picture tiring after a while. It won’t be because of the stellar performances.