Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Christian Convery, Oakley Bull, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Ryan, Stefanie Scott, Andre Royo, Timothy Hutton, LisaGay Hamilton
Written by: Luke Davies, Felix Van Groeningen, based on books by David Sheff, Nic Sheff
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
MPAA Rating: R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material
Running Time: 120
Date: 10/12/2018

Beautiful Boy (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

The Needle and the Damage Done

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This movie has a lot of hugging. Expertly acted to be sure, the drug addiction drama Beautiful Boy is also grueling and repetitive; it's so bland and detached that it wobbles between making drug use look sexy and being an after-school special. Timothy Hutton even shows up in one scene as a doctor, explaining and diagraming the scientific facts about the horrors of crystal meth use.

In Beautiful Boy, freelance journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) is a divorced dad with a teen son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet), from his previous marriage, to Vicki (Amy Ryan). Now he's married to Karen (Maura Tierney) and has two young children with her, but he still cares a great deal for Nic. He goes to see a doctor to learn what to do about Nic's drug use, and his new and frightening addiction to crystal meth.

From there it's a bumpy journey as Nic goes to rehab, attempts to straighten out, and begins using again. David makes many trips out into the night to find Nic, and they have many hugs and many meetings in cafes where Nic tries to hide that he's still using. Finally David comes to the realization that, as much as he wants to help, there's only so much he can do. It's up to Nic.

Director Felix Van Groeningen previously made the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee The Broken Circle Breakdown (from Belgium), and uses the same technique on Beautiful Boy as he did on that one: heavy-handed soap opera and scenes assembled out of chronological order for no discernible reason. Scenes seem to happen from no particular point of view, or many, and are mainly designed to break up the misery with happier memories from the past, although this ploy fails since the return to the wretched present is inevitable.

Teen heartthrob Chalamet brings his trademark James Dean-like outlaw swagger to his role, which is a young actor's dream: he gets to scream and cry and confess things from the depths of his soul, and he's the most attractive screen drug addict in some time. Carell gives a sturdier, quieter performance, although most of what he does is stare at computer screens, talk on the phone, or drive a car. Or hugging.

Van Groeningen includes lots and lots of alt-rock songs on the soundtrack to illustrate the beauty or anguish of the moment, but as the movie drags on towards the two-hour mark, and we've seen the same kind of relapse-argument-recovery sequences over and over, it all begins to feel achingly tiresome. Drug abuse and addiction is a terrible thing, and should not be taken lightly, but "problem" movies like this just come across as opportunistic and exploitative.

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