It’s been quite the year for 22 year old New Yorker Timotheé Chalamet. After impressing audiences and critics at last year’s London Film Festival as Elio in Call Me By Your Name, he returns this year in a equally moving story. Under the guidance of Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen, and boosted by a stellar supporting cast featuring Steve Carell and Amy Ryan, the acting prodigy delivers his career-best performance in the heartbreaking Beautiful Boy. Based on the memoirs of the Rolling Stone journalist David Scheff (Carell), the film follows his son Nic (Chalamet), a drug abuser in his mid-teens. As his condition and addiction worsens, his loving father and his stepmother Karen (Maura Tierney) try to help him as much as they can. But, falling in and out of rehab, Nic drifts further and further from his loved ones. Bouncing between Los Angeles, where his biological mother Vicki (Ryan) lives, San Francisco, where he lives with his father, and New York, Nic keeps cannot escape the lethal cycle of methamphetamine use. And as David tries to better understand his son’s problems, things only get worse. Beautiful Boy is a particularly special film. It takes a classic Oscar-bait genre, complete with an all-star cast (in front of and behind the camera—Brad Pitt has a production credit), and does something surprisingly unique. It fully understands its characters and their emotions. It is subtle, eschewing any particular theatrics or scenery-chewing performances, and the result is a genuinely deep character study. Its concerns are universal, touching on themes not only of addiction, but fatherly love, the importance of family and, simply enough, growing pains. Beautiful Boy is as much a coming of age story as it is a heart-wrenching appeal to members of the Academy. Carell is perfectly cast as David, projecting the writer’s anguish and depression with his trademark mix of confusion and intensity. His role is deepened as a result of the film’s interesting pacing and editing, which gives the viewer scenes from the character’s memory, showing infant Nic living peacefully with David. The director dwells on these scenes just long enough to give resonance and poignancy to the present-day relationship between the pair, which has become so strained. Tierney and Chalamet, too, benefit from Groeningen’s sharp, never mawkish dialogue, and the emotional edge to the film is never threatened by cliché. With a plot so cyclical, a satisfying ending is often hard to reach, but here the feat is achieved without strain. Never preachy or predictable, Beautiful Boy never promises too much, just prompts meaningful questions and delivers good answers. In a way, the film’s approach to plot is half-formed, but even as new developments are revealed rather casually, its sure step does not falter. Beautiful Boy is a perfectly pitched tearjerker that never fails to engage, and serves as proof of Chalamet’s bright future.
Image: Francois Duhamel