Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningan, 2018) 1½ out of 4 stars
Felix Van Groeningan’s biographical drama, Beautiful Boy, is one that blindly embodies the same shortcomings of its titular character: it continuously promises the audience of its potential but is invariably bogged down by its own inescapable cycle. That character, played by rising star Timothée Chalamet, is used somewhat negligently to give insight into the universal horror that is meth addiction. His father, played by Steve Carell, is left to simultaneously cope with the loss of who his son used to be and find a way to try and help the son he faces now. This film has a lot going for it, but, comparable to Carell’s character, the audience is almost immediately forced to confront the fact that all of its promise will not, unfortunately, be fulfilled.
Beautiful Boy’s fatal flaw lies in its structure. The flashbacks laced throughout the narrative expose the weak editing style, with countless shots being added to places that render them meaningless. What’s worse is that it almost seems to be exploiting his previous status as a very normal child to worsen the impact of his current situation which simply ends up feeling lazy. Each scene feels identical to the last, a result of the repetitive back and forth of Chalamet’s exhausting recovery cycle. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s actually aimless and is limiting the actors by never allowing their characters room to develop.
It is rare to see a film this claustrophobic, its tightly framed shots and uncomfortable holds on needle injections all set to the equally suffocating, confused soundtrack that is relentlessly telling the audience how they should be feeling. There is not a moment of silence in this film, which does not work to the actors’ advantage. Carrel, especially, is most watchable when he is most reserved, and, in a movie littered with a dozen unnecessary characters and an equal amount of oscar-baity conversations, everything is working against him.
This film does succeed occasionally, an emotional highlight being an unexpected car chase between Carell’s wife, portrayed by Maura Tierney, and Chalamet’s character. Across the board, the women in this film are almost outshining the men, despite being relegated to practically mute, ineffectual characters. Their intentions are the same as Carrel’s, yet their actions are never good enough according to his standards.
Sure, the subject matter is undeniably important, but I can’t help but feel this could have been better in other hands. In what turned out to be an overly long PSA, my mind was left to wonder one thing: why?