If you would like to read our earlier TIFF review of Beautiful Boy, click here.
Synopsis: Beautiful Boy is a deeply moving portrait of a family’s unwavering love and commitment to each other in the face of their son’s addiction and his attempts at recovery. Based on two memoirs, one from acclaimed journalist David Sheff and one fromhisson, Nic Sheff. As Nic repeatedly relapses, the Sheffs are faced with the harsh reality that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and can hit any family at any time. (VVS Films)
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, and Maura Tierney
Writers: Luke Davies and Felix Van Groeningen
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 112mins
On paper, this film had everything going for it which was primarily the reason why it had been lauded as a potential big winner come awards season. Based on the memoirs of father and son David and Nic Sheff, it heavily features the relationship between father and son, played by the big names of Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet respectively. Unfortunately, once it finally premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, that sentiment began to wain as the first batch of reviews trickled in. Perhaps it isn’t the big award contender that it was made out to be but it’s nowhere near a bad film by any means.
The problem with being based on two different memoirs is that it creates conflict within the narrative. Almost going out of its way to tell both David and Nic’s stories, the story seemed like it wasn’t sure whether or not it was about one or the other. This over-balancing hurt each of their stories as a whole as it never showed enough of either or went nowhere near deep enough to have enough of an emotional impact. The film would have been much better served picking one perspective and running with it. The switching of perspectives and the film’s non-linear storytelling style made the story difficult to follow at times as it told the story of Nic growing up juxtaposed with David dealing with his son’s struggles with drug addiction.
The lack of depth along with its awkward pacing led to fragmented character development made it difficult to ever make an emotional connection with the characters. David was thin and nothing more than the prototypical concerned father while Nic wasn’t overly sympathetic as the drug addict son who never seemed to learn his lesson. The film was supposed to be about their relationship but the film could never solidify it as they always felt too disconnected from one another despite the film’s many attempts to prove otherwise. The care was just not there. In addition, their respective ordeals were approached in such a superficial way that always kept the viewer at arms length while adding nothing new to the conversation. This fact made the film a chore to watch as the first half was rushed while the second half dragged, making the film feel longer than its actual 2 hour running time.
Even with everything else, the acting was the best part of the film but not by much. The writing and direction let them down, however, Carell and Chalamet, along with a decent score and some beautiful cinematography, at least kept things somewhat interesting despite showing little chemistry. Though their performances are nowhere near award-worthy, they did their best with what they had. Carell as David Sheff was mostly one-note whose emotion was too subtle at times while Chalamet as Nic Sheff was the better of the two, showing much more range though overacts at times to perhaps make up for Carell’s low energy performance.
Overall, this was a disappointing drama that had the right pieces but its lack of focus and awkward pacing made it a chore to watch while its fragmented character development made for an emotionless and superficial experience that not even the performances from Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet can overcome. It may not be an award contender but it’s not a bad film by any means and may find an audience with those who can better relate to its central themes.