It seems difficult to dismiss a drama film that is so earnest and open about such a troubling matter that has long affected humankind, yet Beautiful Boy is an increasingly difficult film to accept. It delves into the pains and anxieties (and the brief moments of joy) in a family devastated by the drug addiction of one of their members, though Beautiful Boy spends a long time making a point that most of us probably already know: drugs are bad, m’kay.
Based on the real life troubles between father and son, David (Steve Carell) is the worrisome father of his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet), who is increasingly getting involved with drugs as he grows into his adulthood, beginning by smoking a little weed with his dad, before secretly getting involved heavily in alcohol, random pills, crack, and heroin.
Once the film establishes the vicious cycle of recovery and relapse, it staggers along from one upsetting, unenjoyable set-piece to another. Even films about such depressing topics should still have some sort of flair to them to avoid blandness, but Beautiful Boy displays hardly any originality or individual identity to make it a worthy entry in the films-about-drug-addiction category.
It milks all the sentimentality it can from family life amidst this issue (helped by some post-rock classics in the soundtrack), but it tries so overwhelmingly hard to evoke the smallest reaction from the audience. What makes a tearjerker really work isn’t just showing people having a bad time and crying about it – there has to be a poetry that makes viewers respond on a profound and perhaps unexpected level. Beautiful Boy at times hints at this kind of emotional height, but it mostly just situates itself in a murky fog of never-ending highs and lows (but mostly lows).
Given Beautiful Boy finishes with some end titles explaining the epidemic of crack and heroin addiction in America (as if we didn’t know), the film wishes itself to be something of a cure in film form. It’s at least trying, though it’s unlikely to have the sort of far reaching effect it wants to have. However, it does seem likely that such a raw, exposed, and exploratory film will help out at least one struggling drug addict and their own family out there – but for the rest of us, Beautiful Boy is such a sluggish slog of a film, it will probably make you wish you were on drugs.