In Beautiful Boy, a white, educated, liberal family finds themselves reeling as their “beautiful boy” perfect son throws all of his privilege out the windows and spirals into hard drug use. In the great teaser trailer for the film, you see the desperate and frustrated father David (Steve Carrell) confront his estranged son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) in a diner, to find out that his son only showed up to ask for more money. Chalamet (an Oscar nominee for Call Me By Your Name last year) knocks it out of the park. It is truly effective, and it’s one of those movie trailers that screams Oscar bait.
There is much in Beautiful Boy that is hard to watch. In the opening scenes, David is calling local hospitals after his son has gone missing for a few days. Some parents may think their loved one may have had a horrible car accident and is lying in a ditch somewhere, but David knows from experience that there is a good chance Nic has ended up in the hospital due to a drug overdose. A parent’s fear that their child lay, unidentified and struggling for life somewhere, is truly chilling.
But the thing about Beautiful Boy is that it throws us directly into this family’s drama without introducing us to them first. The structure of the movie tries to fill in the blanks with a bunch of flashbacks, but we really just find out that he was a cute, nice kid, and gosh, how did this ever happen (we never see Nic’s introduction to drugs). A young man of privilege falling into the wretched world of crystal meth would be interesting to watch, but instead we just get to see multiple cycles of Nic spiraling, Nic going to rehab, then Nic spiraling again. And repeat.
Beautiful Boy does get credit in showing how a family can do everything possible to help a drug addict and still fail. It’s a crushing breaking point when David realizes that there is nothing left he can do, and, for all practical purposes, he writes off the son he loves so dearly. But the film overall ends up feeling like a middle chapter that is missing a proper beginning and a proper end. Perhaps it will help families going through the same despairing cycle, but as a film experience, it just seems to be missing too many pieces to have the effect that it is aiming for.