Beautiful Boy is a powerful true story about the effects of addiction that never quite settles into the film it tries to be. On the one hand, it’s commendable that it never devolves into histrionics where the melodrama of the family dynamic takes over the impact of the story. On the other hand, the distanced performances and repetition make the experience of watching it more challenging than it should be.
Felix Van Groeningen’s film exudes earnestness throughout, with a palpable feeling that this is meant to be an important story told with the appropriate respect for those who have lived through such family dysfunction due to the scourge of abuse. Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet lead an exceptional cast that includes the two mother figures, Maura Tierny and Amy Ryan, who all try to come to terms with their son’s drug abuse.
Andre Royo (The Wire) makes an all-too-brief appearance highly reminiscent of his television role, which is a pleasant occurrence but also an unfortunate reminder of the typecasting this truly talented thespian faces. For the most part, however, Carell’s struggles occupy most of the film’s emotional beats. His connection to Chalamet’s various degrees of behavior shifts between loving, desperate, angry, and downright mean.
It’s safe to say that Van Groeningen’s film will affect many audience members deeply, particularly those who have either struggled in similar ways or have relatives in the midst of this crisis. While others can surely empathize with these travails, there may be too much in the way to truly connect, with too few explicit narrative hooks to hold onto. It’s a bold move to be so steady in the telling, but it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t completely connect the way it strives to.
While Beautiful Boy may not quite reach the levels it’s trying to achieve, it has many emotionally rich moments. While flawed, this is a film that manages to do justice to the experience of this one family representing far too many currently dealing with the complex issues surrounding addiction and its aftermath.
[Ed. Note: This Beautiful Boy is unrelated to the other Beautiful Boy that played at TIFF in 2010. -JZ]