Movie Review: Beautiful Boy

As the opioid epidemic continues to rip families apart in the US and elsewhere, it’s not surprising that Hollywood has begun to take notice. A couple of films – BEAUTIFUL BOY and BEN IS BACK – have come out in the past few months dealing with drug-addicted children but only one has come to Hong Kong’s cinemas (or “cinema” singular as it only played in one cinema). It would seem that audiences here aren’t interested in the issue.

Based on the complementary memoirs Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by freelance writer David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, BEAUTIFUL BOY recounts the pair’s personal journey cycling from usage to treatment to sobriety to relapse and back again… a few times. Although son Nic (Timothée Chalamet, LADY BIRD; CALL ME BY YOUR NAME) is the one who is using the drugs, their effect ripples through David’s (Steve Carell, BATTLE OF THE SEXES; CAFÉ SOCIETY; THE BIG SHORT) house, straining the father’s relationship with both his current wife, artist Karen (Maura Tierney, TV’s ER), and their two young children, and his ex-wife, Vicki (Amy Ryan, BIRDMAN; DEVIL’S KNOT). While David initially thinks he can “fix” Nic through a combination of expensive rehab and love, he eventually comes to the sad realisation that neither will work, leaving the young man to his own devices.

Directed by Belgian Felix Van Groeningen (Oscar-nominated THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN), BEAUTIFUL BOY is his first English-language feature. Unfortunately, he is let down by a weak screenplay by Luke Davies (LION) that is fairly one-note and laden with flashbacks that fail to adhere to any logical timeline. I suppose flashbacks are non-linear in real life but they can be confusing to follow in film. Interestingly, Cameron Crowe (JERRY MAGUIRE; ALMOST FAMOUS) was planning to direct the film based on a screenplay that he had written but it never came to be. It’s too bad because I think it would have made for a more interesting film that what we’ve been given here. There’s a good story buried here but this isn’t it. Adding to the film’s woes are the groaningly accurate musical selections that range from the obvious (John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”) to the treacly (Perry Como’s rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset”). As it is though, BEAUTIFUL BOY is reasonably entertaining thanks to the performances of Chalamet and Carell who make the most of the hands they were dealt.

BEAUTIFUL BOY quietly came to Hong Kong at the end of October without any marketing support and left a few weeks later. It’s now available on Amazon Prime and probably on some airlines as well. If you’ve got nothing better to watch, I’d say check it out.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 18th at 8:30 am HK time!

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