Daddy Dave (Steve Carell) spends the first quarter of the picture scratching his head while even accidental moviegoers — those who stumble across Beautiful Boy as a fluke, without the benefit of having seen the trailer or read so much as one critical blurb — will instantly recognize what’s eating his young son Nic (Timothée Chalamet). Could it be that, with only slight variations, audiences have seen this story of “relapse and recovery” told dozens if not hundreds of times before, and almost always in the same easy to foretell manner?
Based on dueling bestsellers written from the points of view of father and son Dave and Nic Sheff, this isn’t director Felix Van Groeningen’s first time asking audiences to mourn the absence of a child. Remember The Broken Circle Breakdown, the musical released a few years back about a bluegrass singer and his heavily-inked cowgirl working through the death of their child? At least that had a few songs to lighten the load and a director woking hard to preserve the realism and lack of sentimentality inherent in playwright (and star) Johan Heldenbergh’s source material. This time around, how’s this for syrupy audience manipulation? Only at a wedding or Bar Mitzvah are the treacly strains of “Sunrise, Sunset” even remotely tenable. It’s presence here led to flop-sweat. Like a junkie in need of a fix, I began patting down my pockets in search of a hit of insulin.
Who is this movie’s target audience? If the kid I never had grew up to be a tweaker, do you think I’d be squandering my entertainment dollars on a film that I could just as easily have written? And while Nic relieves his little brother’s piggy bank to the tune of eight dollars, any addict with a few bucks in their pocket sure as hell isn’t going to spend a cent of it on a movie ticket. Besides, who needs visual stimulation when there’s a drug-induced grindhouse constantly churning through their head?
Does Van Groeningen really think his fictionalized account is going to make a dent in the meth epidemic? This is the story of a college kid hooked on crystal as told by a director who’s addicted to closeups. (He has a macro lens on his back.) This isn’t about addiction so much as it is a hearable plea for attention on behalf of the actors as they kick off the official start to this year’s awards season. Oscar-nominated Carell is aiming at the rafters, while his young supporting player — and last year’s Academy darling, Chalamet — adds depth to his characterization by wisely playing Nic as an addictive personality trying to act “normal” around his family so that they will continue to enable him. He’s a winsome lad, a chatty good-natured kid who could talk his AA sponsor into joining him for a couple of cocktails after the meeting. Not that I get off watching play actors writhe, but how about some suffering for the cause? (Staring into a coffee cup doesn’t count.) As presented, Nic’s swearing off meth is no worse than kicking a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit.
Nic’s interest in the opposite sex is limited to the blonde coed he pricks with a syringe. There are two female role models in Nic’s life. His birth mother (Amy Ryan) doesn’t come into the picture until the halfway point, and then it’s simply to give her ex someone other than their son to argue with. Nic’s replacement mom (Maura Tierney) suffers stoically in the soft-focus perimeters of the frame.
Points for originality: there comes a time where Dave is spending 30 hours of his 40-hour workweek just to pay his son’s rehab bills. The sight of a parent firing up a joint with their kid has become fairly common. But is there another movie in which a father, wanting so badly to learn just what it was about a drug that turned his boy into an addict (and where his money went), hops in the family car and heads to a “bad area” to score a bag of snorts?
And while I was initially taken by cinematographer Ruben Impens’ dark interiors, the mahogany color scheme only acts to underscore the wooden plot. Those looking for a feel-good message will discover that, other than a pair of actors hucking for an award, nothing about this Boy is even remotely inspiring.
The importance of meeting Rupert
Veteran actor Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Comfort of Strangers) will be in town this weekend to promote his directorial debut (and longtime passion project) The Happy Prince. Everett also wrote and stars in this portrayal of the final days in the life of Oscar Wilde, which as of this writing had critic Matthew Lickona swooning and sniffling and casting about for a fourth star.
You will have two chances to meet Rupert Everett this Saturday, October 20. There will be a Q&A following the 5:00 pm screening at Carmel Mountain’s Angelika Film Center and another after the 7:15 pm presentation at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas.