When it comes to depicting drug addiction, “Beautiful Boy” doesn’t show us much that we haven’t seen before in movies, but it gets the emotions just right.
Especially in the case of feeling helpless. A parent’s greatest fear might be that of being helpless to save their child from a disease.
Addiction is a disease, and addiction to crystal meth means your child’s brain is on fire, chasing a high that will never match that first time but which doesn’t stop the chase.
“Beautiful Boy” (opening Friday, Nov. 9) is based on a pair of memoirs — “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff and “Tweak” by his son, Nic Sheff, about their shared experiences fighting the disease.
Fighting — not controlling and not curing. That’s another thing the movie gets right: It is a disease, not a moral failing, and it is a battle fought one day at a time.
Steve Carell plays David, and “Call Me By Your Name” breakout star Timothee Chalamet portrays Nic, and their relationship is the kind that parents only dream of with their teen.
They bond. They share. They hug, and one says to the other, “Everything,” to which the other responds: “Everything.”
They are so close that it hits David, and the audience, that much harder when it becomes clear that a son who was smoking a little marijuana has moved on to all of the drugs — and meth is his favorite.
Belgian director Felix van Groeningen (foreign-film Oscar nominee “The Broken Circle Breakdown”) deepens their relationship by showing their lives to us in a non-linear fashion.
This shows their connections in their writing skills (Dad is a freelance journalist, the son a talent who is finding his voice), in their surfing trips, in their times together when Nic was younger and what feels like a short time ago, before the drugs.
This jumping around in time also works well because it’s the way that a parent’s mind works: David can’t help but think of this child, this “beautiful boy,” and wonder what took that treasure away.
The idea of a bond that feels unbreakable, smashing into something as insidious as a meth addiction that can break anything and lead to a child lying, stealing, going missing for days and worse, is devastating to watch.
As I watched David as calmly as possible call hospitals, checking to see if his son has been brought there, I couldn’t help but think: I couldn’t make that call without my body shaking and voice breaking.
There is a lot of love in this movie, and there is a good amount of sentimentality, but not overly so, and that is a compliment to the work of Carell and Chalamet.
Their award-worthy performances are so convincing and free of melodrama that they won’t allow the film to hit movie-of-the-week levels.
There are other issues, such as scenes that feature too much repetition in their rehab/relapse cycles, and psychology explanations that are oddly clinical.
Then there’s the fact that David and his wife (Maura Tierney, who has too little to do as the mother of their two youngest kids but not Nic) live in the San Francisco area in what appears to be a multimillion-dollar residence.
He’s a journalist, and she’s an artist, so their primo real estate feels odd, too, and it’s where most of the movie takes place.
But “Beautiful Boy” is a small treasure that will be remembered for the way that it makes you feel about watching a loved one in pain, like a young man who seems more like a lost little boy.