Drug addiction is easy to get wrong in films. Filmmakers often paint a consistent narrative of broken homes and lives built on tragic occurrences. There are seldom stories about privileged white men in healthy families who get into drugs out of boredom and depression — people whose parents loved them, who grew up with plenty of opportunities
“Beautiful Boy” shows that addiction can affect everyone. Relapses can still happen, even in instances where the addict has resources and a support system. Addictions can intensify over time, and recovery can be drawn out. The movie portrays drug addiction as a disease, a fusion of neurological predisposition and unfortunate social circumstance. It is not a matter of being a terrible person.
Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet), the artsy, brooding and tortured-but-kind main character, has the perfect upbringing. In the affluent Marin County, California, the teenager has divorced but loving, doting parents (his father played by Steve Carell) and a stepmother who cares deeply for him, as well as two half siblings. However, he jeapordizes his family ties for the chance to get high.
What is important about this movie isn’t the fact that Nic’s family eventually gives up on him. This is a narrative only someone with drug addicts close to them can understand.
Increasingly, we see sweet, privileged men with abundant support still using drugs not in delinquency but as escapism, because they don’t have a tangible reason for their internal issues — I’ve seen this in my older brother, in an ex-boyfriend, in an old friend and now, in “Beautiful Boy.”
You want to be there for them, healing their wounds and fixing their problems, but that is not a course of action that is often taken — especially in Nic’s case, when the drugs are as dangerous as crystal meth.
Nic’s father did, at one point, give up on him. This is where the realism of the pain that drug addiction causes — not only to the individual but everyone in their wake — really came across on screen.
It is easy to see the whitewashing of this narrative. Of course an audience is likely to sympathize with an innocent, white teenage male. But this privileged story is still one worth telling, because it is real, and it is closer to us than we think.
I was not under the impression “Beautiful Boy” would hit me this hard. Advertised as another Timothee Chalamet movie with a star-studded cast, I didn’t think that in the 120 minutes of this film, I would fall in love, have my heart broken and sob for 45 minutes straight. Be prepared.
This movie was sad, it was ugly, but it was real. This is the closest Hollywood has ever gotten, in what I’ve seen, to portraying the innocence of a mindless drug addict, all while showing you that each drug addict you see on the street, each person you think is a failure, he had a deep, long and colorful life behind them.