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Beautiful Boy (dir. Groeningen)

Image: Amy Ryan and Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy © Property of Amazon Studios [Source: IMDB]

★★★☆☆

Based on the memoirs of real-life father and son, David and Nic Sheff. Recounting the real story of a family coping with addiction. How it affects not only the addict but those who love them. Is relapse really a part of recovery?

Director: Felix van Groeningen. Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan [15]

Beautiful Boy is telling a tale that has been told many, many times and sadly to far better degrees. It’s a film that promised so much, the trailer might make you believe it to be a deeply insightful and thought-provoking as well as emotionally rending independent drama, headed by two powerful talents. Unfortunately only part of this fulfils that promise.

Ultimately the failure in Beautiful Boy is its emotional dis-attachment. As a viewer, you feel sympathetic towards both main characters and can understand their plight but there is a fundamental lack of engagement towards the emotional core of the film. Never feeling that twinge of the heart when Nic falls back into drugs and his father is lost as to help him. It’s certainly there for the characters – Carell and Calamet give it their all and add a lot of nuance towards scenes that from a writing perspective are severely lacking. Furthermore, the choice in cinematography directly challenges the norm of camera storytelling and fails miserably. Shots are strangely framed and give odd perspectives to scenes that need more flow and intimate shots, so we the audience may participate in the drama and further connect with these characters.

Instead, we are left outside the booth, and much like a junkie are emotionally disengaged and kept away from compassion and love. “That’s the point” you may be saying. Well to that I call nonsense. Sure from an artistic perspective, a case could be made that the directional choice has been made to keep us at a cold standpoint and understand the characters not from an emotional point of view but a rational one so we may see addiction for all its problems. But! I believe this is untrue. It contradicts not only the structure of the film, the way in which scenes are choreographed but the story itself.

Most of the film plays out like a run of the mill, campaign short film to play in classrooms to help tell kids to stay away from drugs. While this is a serious demerit to the film, it reinforces my point as to why the film is supposed to be capturing us emotionally. It wants us to feel for the father and fall into tears when the emotional tension breaks and characters lose it. Why? Because that is the fundamental theme, love and compassion. It does thankfully deliver on this by outlining very clearly that while drug addicts ruin the lives of those around them. It is a disease and it’s a constant losing battle that they are in no means in control of. So that is solid evidence for the emotional punch the film wants to pack, it does try throughout, failing miserably in many cases but by the end of the film when the writing and camera work is more fitting and engaging it’s hard not to feel that emotional tug as this family battles yet again.

There is an argument to be made that it doesn’t need an emotional weight to it and that the story works on its own. While that is true, the story does carry itself well and does deliver on its themes and the narrative that it sets out in the beginning. However, I sadly don’t fully agree. The film is from a perspective that lends itself to the emotional style of narrative. It could have attempted to add a new perspective or engage the audience in a discussion that campaign films in schools haven’t done already. Which for me breaks this film, without the emotional engagement it does absolutely nothing exciting or even fresh with its narrative and winds up somewhat mediocre.

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