Beautiful Boy’s repetitive plot buoyed by heart-wrenching performances

Biopic doesn't live up to expectations, but Timothee Chalamet does

Chalamet's performance as Nic is captivating.
Credit: 
Screenshot from YouTube

I entered The Screening Room this weekend ready to be blown away. After obsessively watching and re-watching Timothée Chalamet’s breakout film, Call Me By Your Name, and following his rise to fame, I had high hopes for the actor’s newest role as a crystal meth addict in Beautiful Boy.

However, despite Chalamet and co-star Steve Carell’s heart-wrenching performances, the depressingly cyclical movie fell short of my expectations.

In Beautiful Boy, Chalamet plays Nic Sheff, a young man who develops an addiction to crystal meth.  Carell plays his father, David, a freelance writer forced to watch his son’s descent into dependency. The movie, based on the memoirs of the real Nic and David Sheff, gives viewers snapshots of the father and son’s relationship through their individual struggles.

Although the film has hopeful moments—like when Nic heartwarmingly plays with his younger half-siblings in the backyard of his father’s house—the bulk of Beautiful Boy is unrelentingly dark. Rolling images of overdoses, needles, hospital rooms, and torn-up journals leave viewers overwhelmed—often  without relief.

Beautiful Boy doesn’t have a picture-perfect happy ending, either. The film reminds viewers addiction can’t be treated the way we expect other problems in movies to eventually be resolved. By not including enough light alongside the dark, it fails to engage its audience.

I remember cringing uncomfortably while watching Chalamet prepare meth on-screen. This discomfort stuck with me throughout the two-hour run time. I expected the film to make me feel something—sadness, hope, joy. Instead, I felt like I wanted to leave the theatre.

In an interview with Time in October, Chalamet explained the film’s lack of resolution was intentional, saying, “People are bracing for [...] something that ends with a flourish—a montage of hope or something. But this is just scene after scene.”

From an artistic point of view, I can understand wanting to portray addiction realistically. On the other hand, as a consumer, I found it difficult to be captivated by Beautiful Boy because the plot didn’t go anywhere.

Beautiful Boy confronts the realities of addiction and family in our modern world—nobody can deny that. But it begs the question: should depicting reality take priority over audience immersion?

Despite the plot’s never-ending barrage of bleak scenes, Chalamet shines as Nic Sheff. His commitment to the role is obvious on screen. I was worried I’d only see Elio, Chalamet’s Call Me By Your Name character, after watching the film so many times. But the way he portrayed the two young men onscreen couldn’t be more different.

As Nic, he is unpredictable, short-tempered, and hopeless. It goes to show how much range and undiscovered potential Chalamet has.

The scene that will stay with me most is the one where Nic does meth in his university dorm. He prepares everything in a morbid routine and wraps a tourniquet around his arm before injecting the drug. Chalamet’s initial wince of pain at the pinch of the needle morphs into thoughtless bliss as the drug enters his system. It’s difficult to watch, but captivating—he makes it all look so real.

Ultimately, I’d recommend still watching Beautiful Boy despite its flaws. The film importantly shows addiction can’t be treated with ease, and that sometimes people never fully recover. The movie’s real appeal is Chalamet’s enthralling portrayal of these struggles.

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