Movie Review: Beautiful Boy
Oof. This was my reaction to this movie, when I watched it a couple days ago. Timothée Chalamet (who plays Nic) and Steve Carell (who plays his father, David) do a phenomenal job of portraying a father-son relationship damaged by drug abuse. Addiction can be a difficult subject to talk about, even more to depict on-screen, but the producers of this movie nailed it. At times it can feel a little slow, like ripples in an ocean when all you want as a movie viewer is a hurricane–but this is reflective to what addicts experience. The back and forth, from feeling optimistic to relapsing. This movie is graphic in its depiction of drug abuse, so I would advise anyone who might be sensitive to the subject to be mindful of this before watching it.
This movie is unique in that is progresses and is informed by scenes of Nic’s childhood. As you follow him in his “present” state, a clinically diagnosed addict, you are rewinded twelve years back to when his parents had recently divorced. Stuck in the middle of a failed marriage, a young Nic would fly solo across the country to see either parent and would be bullied by the anxieties that exist when you’re the son of divorced parents. An accomplished student and athlete, when these anxieties manifest themselves at the cusp of his adolescence, it thwarts his relationship with his father. As Nic learns to navigate emotions that had been compressed in the recesses of his heart, David is forced to readjust his perception of his son–and, intrinsically, of himself. Which is why placing yourself in either of their perspectives while watching the movie is like a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey: you know where the source is and feel yourself get closer, but the blind you wear prevents you from knowing exactly. For Nic and David, that blind is drugs.
Closer to the end, there’s a scene in which David refuses to help Nic in a crisis, and it broke my heart. The breathless second after David ends the call with Nic propels the moment after, when all his emotions rise to his face, and his face contorts into a knot–and before you know it, you’re pulling your sleeves to your eyes because, wow, who would’ve known that Michael Scott from The Office could make you cry. Powerful. Whether you’re 18 or 48, you understand David because there had been precedence with Nic relapsing and promising to do better but nonetheless damaging his family. But it still doesn’t minimize the pain you feel for Nic, a young man caged in life by addiction.
The movie title is a reference to a line repeatedly said by David; he pleas, “Where did my beautiful boy go?” Part of what this movie demonstrates is that there’s no perfect father-son relationship. The very generational aspect of it, of them having grown up in different environments and time periods, creates a disconnect in their bond–but even more, now, since drug abuse is more common than in any other previous decade. As a response to David’s question, I intuit that a “beautiful boy” can be defined and distinguished, in relation to a “beautiful man.” A child will always depend on his parent(s). Which is why, in the final scene, when Nic nuzzles up to his dad, and David embraces his son for everything he is, you realize, his beautiful boy had never left.