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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024