A not-so-beautiful construction of a beautiful boy

An intriguing tale about the roller coaster ride of drug addiction, family and drama, ‘Beautiful Boy,’ is worth two hours of your time

~Ashley McMillan, Staff Writer~

Imagine having the perfect son, the perfect wife and the perfect job. You can write about anything and everything for a salary, you have a son that is your best friend in the household and an amazing new wife to step in as a mother to your son. Out of nowhere, as time has gone by, your son seems distant and “not always there” … but that is just what teenagers do, right? For the Sheff family, and many others around the world, that is not the entire truth. Father of the household, David Sheff, competes with his sons addiction tirelessly throughout the film. Whether it’s to walk the San Francisco city streets, or cross-country on a plane to New York, all to find his son— David consistently is there after Nic relapses and leaves rehab, again and again. 

Almost a decade later, the father and son, David and Nic Sheff, had their two memoirs produced into an Amazon Prime Original Film “Beautiful Boy” (2018). Director Felix Van Groeningen and screenwriter Luke Davies worked to tie both Sheff’s memoirs, trying to jumble together the film’s time structure.

As a young adult, Nic Sheff wrote the first book that would inspire the film, “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” (2007), he explores how the addiction took over his life, as well as his families. The second book was written by none other David Sheff himself, father of Nic Sheff. David’s book was titled “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s Addiction (2009).” Just by reading the title, it is understood how David, in response to his sons’ book, felt compelled to write “Beautiful Boy” because of his struggling but compassionate story with his sons’ drug addiction from a father’s perspective.

In this family drama, Steve Carrel plays David Sheff, a father of young drug addict Nic Sheff, played by “Call Me By Your Name” (2017) star Timothée Chalamet. The film captures the hopeless rollercoaster families go through when a loved one has a severe addiction. While watching it, it seems the time structure is disfigured or not well thought-out. 

As time goes by, old memories and flashbacks flood in unexpectedly as the film progresses; unanticipated flashbacks show how quick and subtle addiction can be for the least expected. Director Groeningen tried to display this feeling of an unresolved chapter that never seems to end, while as well trying to contribute both books into the film. Nevertheless, the film perfectly captures the imperfect cycle of drug addiction.

While watching, I never understood why the director didn’t show Nic’s first use of drugs. When telling a story about drug addiction, it is typically significant in a user’s life of when their new experiment with drugs started. David discusses his time with drug use, but Director Groeningen didn’t go into full detail of Nic’s background, focusing instead on the cycle of his addiction. 

Speaking out about how a first time with drug use escalated from marijuana, to cocaine, to methamphetamine is critical when figuring out recovery options for the long-run. For instance, low self-confidence or depression could contribute into why a user had started this complicated “journey” unable to escape from. A clarity of how Nic got turned down this impossible path would be more intriguing for the audience. 

Midway through the film, we discover that David has had his own experimentation with drugs in the past. Although it was nothing as severe as Nic’s situation, he tries to find ways to understand his son. This could be a contribution as to why Nic felt compelled to be like his role model—his father. David starts to act as if it his fault as Nic’s father with a drug history that Nic has become this way. David does anything in his power throughout the movie to save Nic when he hits a low point.

In regard to how the film was made post-production, the editing was confusing and awkward at first, but due to its context it’s clear why. The film is a rollercoaster ride. The cinematography of “Beautiful Boy” reflects the complexity of a heart-wrenching situation with the use of fast flashbacks, and quick cuts to the next scene. Though, it can be confusing at first for the audience when trying to realize if a particular moment was present or in the past due to multiple time stops. 

Personally, I don’t try to analyze everything while watching a film for enjoyment, so when watching this film in particular it was complicated for me to realize the connection of scenes one after another. It makes sense midway why the film seemed repetitive— that’s what drug addiction is all about. It’s never-ending. Nevertheless, the color-grading was very relaxing and homey. For mise-en-scene, I appreciated the overall tone and little elements of the film. The setting was primarily in San Francisco or Los Angeles, both which are known to be creative, free-minded cities. Because of that, the film had multiple creative, local-feeling props and sets that made me feel like I was a Boho city gal watching. 

“Beautiful Boy” is beautifully constructed to tell the story of almost every family victim to drug addiction. Groeningen’s film doesn’t particularly go into detail of Nic Sheff’s drug addiction background, but rather has the audience see themselves in some families’ likewise situations. The story seems to speak for itself—drug addiction comes out of nowhere, shackling their victim to up their doses until death sets them free. In my opinion, free up two hours of your time to become acclimated to that atmosphere, and what YOU could do in your present.

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