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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.