Despite its ambitions, Beautiful Boy is simply exhausting

Steve Carell is a father who watches his son (Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name) struggle with meth addiction in this drama based on the memoirs of David and Nic Sheff.

Though it has its tender moments, critic Amanda Jane Robinson describes how the film loses distinction and sincerity.

Beautiful Boy is an ambitious film, one that hopes to make known the exhausting heartbreak of addiction. Unfortunately, it ends up simply exhausting.

Based on a pair of memoirs from father and son David (Steve Carell) and Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet), Beautiful Boy follows their parallel experiences with Nic’s meth addiction. Carrell does a decent job of portraying the parent, as subject of the sentence: a parent’s worst nightmare. Though never entirely convincing, Chalamet’s performance is skillfully bodily; that scrawny hunch, all limbs. Never fully committing to either character’s point of view only hurts the film, as does the offensive underutilisation of Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan, who at least do well with the little screen time they were allotted. It was Kaitlyn Dever, though, who really excels, even in the most minor role.

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, the film’s first act is choppy and unfocused, structured around flashbacks and flashforwards in a temporality that mirrors Nic’s recurrent rhythm of relapse and recovery. This clever approach, however, is soon abandoned for a more traditional, straightforward narrative, and in that shift the film’s distinction is lost.

The film does have its tender moments—there’s this one gorgeous scene when Nic talks with his kid brother during a family beach trip. And yet, too many unnecessary tangents, bad music cues and heavy-handed exposition involving Nic’s textbook-disturbing drug-addled drawings take away the possibility for sincere emotional resonance. With end titles citing addiction statistics, the film ends up feeling a little like a glorified anti-drug campaign.