TIFF Review: ‘BEAUTIFUL BOY’ a powerfully affecting father-son story, with moving turns by Carell and Chalamet

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

BEAUTIFUL BOY

Rated R, 112 minutes.
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Cast: Steve CarellTimothée ChalametMaura TierneyChristian ConveryOakley BullKaitlyn DeverAmy Ryan and Stefanie Scott

Felix Van Groeningen’s BEAUTIFUL BOY takes a unique perspective on the cautionary drug tale. He and screenwriter Luke Davies (LION) blend the BEAUTIFUL BOY novel by David Sheff with his son Nic Sheff’s memoir TWEAK. Each recount their navigation through Nic’s addiction to methamphetamines. Van Groeningan’s film comes from a emotional place, with familiar subject matter that is elevated by two weighty performances by Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell.

Carell plays David Sheff, a soft-spoken freelance journalist who spends his days quietly worrying about his 18-year-old son, Nic (Chalamet), who for the past few months has gone down a dark path. David recounts where it went wrong. Was it the time he blasted Nirvana with Nic, or the joint they smoked together? By a trial-and-error process, David does some detective work into Nic’s disease, seeking information on possible brain damage, medical research, the success rates of rehab and even trying an unknown powder himself. There’s no limit to the love David has for Nic, but during the process of helping, he has become codependent.

Oakley Bull as Daisy Sheff, Maura Tierney as Karen Babour, Timothée Chalamet as Nic Sheff, Christian Convery as Jasper Sheff, and Steve Carell as David Scheff star in ‘BEAUTIFUL BOY.’ Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

There are two sides to Carell’s drama acting: put on a fake nose (FOXCATCHER), or quietly emote (LAST FLAG FLYING). He does both of these to great effect, but BEAUTIFUL BOY is the role that has him at the height of his acting powers. Carrel cues the waterworks with quiet conviction; his mind desperately races as ambient music plays pretty much wall-to-wall throughout the narrative.

BEAUTIFUL BOY could be labeled as a one-note jingle of a father-and-son’s love, having the schmaltz emotion you’d find in a “movie of the week,” but Van Groeningen handles the text through poetic vignettes and soft framing that represents David’s memories of Nic in a flattering light.

It’s no question: This is Chalamet’s show. It’s a welcome return to a dramatic role after CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. His portrayal of Nic is frustrating to watch as he is outwardly expressing all the pain that is going on inside his mind and body. Chalamet brings you close and allows you to sympathize with this deeply troubled kid. Together, he and Carell find new ground in a father-son love story that will make you want to call home immediately after the credits.

BEAUTIFUL BOY wrestles with a tough subject, yet the aesthetic compliments the material with an evocative style and the best performance duo this year. There will be detractors who will say this is a saccharine story, but denying the truth this film uncovers would be a shame. It cuts deep and will hit you in the feels.

[Grade: A-]

BEAUTIFUL BOY premiered on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. The Toronto International Film Festival will have encore screenings on 9/8 and 9/13 (P&I screening only). Visit tiff.net for more details on the showtimes. BEAUTIFUL BOY will release on Oct. 12, 2018 through Amazon Studios.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.