Ever since Cameron Crowe first attempted to make this movie years ago, Beautiful Boy has been on my radar. That version helmed by Crowe (set to star Mark Wahlberg) never came to pass, but this week sees the film actually hitting theaters. Now a starring vehicle for Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet, it’s way more about the performances than the filmmaker behind the camera (more on that later). The flick made some waves on the fall festival circuit, but now faces a different test. Critics were into it, to differing degrees, but will audiences take to the somber material? If so, the road ahead may be strong for it. As an acting showcase, this is good stuff. Overall though? It’s more of a mixed bag.
Based off of two memoirs by David Sheff and Nic Sheff, the movie looks at the effect of drug addiction on a family, specifically a father and son. David (Carell) loves his son Nic (Chalamet) and thinks they’re closer than the average parent/child. That may be true, but he’s still helpless as his boy first privately, and then publicly, becomes a crystal meth addict. We both follow David as he attempts to learn about his son’s struggle and provide support, as well as see Nic hit rock bottom. Considering who wrote the memoirs, there’s a happy ending in sight, to some degree at least, but there’s plenty of tragedy along the way. Felix Van Groeningen directs and co-writes the adaptation with Luke Davies. Supporting players here include Kaitlyn Dever, Jack Dylan Grazer, Timothy Hutton, Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney, and more, with the latter two turning in small yet vital roles. Ruben Impens provides the handsome cinematography.
If we’re just looking at the performances, this film is top notch. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than that, and those elements are more hit or miss. Carell and Chalamet are acting their hearts out here, so much so that they overcome some spotty filmmaking. While both performances are great, Van Groeningen’s direction is questionable. The acting and emotions are on full display, but the structure robs it all of its full effectiveness. Scenes are shown in odd order, end too quickly, and overall just miss the mark of what would make this a true tearjerking experience. It’s still solidly done and looks nice, but it’s only a good film when it easily could have been a great one.
Beautiful Boy may have its issues, but it will still be one of Amazon Studios’ big Oscar pushes. The most likely play is Best Supporting Actor for Chalamet, though Best Actor for Carell will also be attempted. Chalamet in Supporting Actor could certainly happen, though Carell in Actor is iffier. Any other nominations, be it Best Picture, Van Groeningen in Best Director, Ryan and/or Tierney in Best Supporting Actress, as well as Davies and Van Groeningen in Best Adapted Screenplay are longer shots. If the response to this flick is what I think it’ll be, this will be Chalamet or bust, provided he stays in Supporting Actor. That’s the best chance for the film to crack a lineup this year.
If you’re a big Carell or Chalamet fan, Beautiful Boy is going to be right up your alley. Looking just at them, this is tremendous stuff, so if you can do that, all the better. The final product is good enough to recommend, though not without the aforementioned reservations. Perhaps this is not the big deal Academy Award player that we thought? Even so, as a character study, it offers up a pair of roles that two talented actors knock out of the part. The aces acting is what you’ll remember here. If you see the movie, see it for them…
Be sure to check out Beautiful Boy, starting its theatrical run this weekend!