“Beautiful Boy”: Teen and Family Fight Addiction

To live with addiction — one’s own or a loved one’s — involves living with uncertainty. It also requires enormous suffering. I’m coming to accept these truths after years of fighting them. The surprise is that the more I accept them, the less I suffer. Quote from David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy, Felix van Groeningen‘s new film based on memoirs by both David Sheff and his son Nic about the latter’s drug addiction (Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, 2008, and Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, 2007) stars Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as father and son. Mother and stepmom are played by Amy Ryan and Maura Tierney.

Beautiful Boy‘s Focus

Brian Truitt, USA Today: “…tracks the downward spiral of a teenage boy’s addiction to meth, the vicious cycle of recovery and relapse, yet also the hope and love waiting on the other side.”

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “The film moves back and forth between Nic’s past and present, detailing how this relatively average kid felt he needed bigger and better highs to get through the day. The helplessness of addiction is there in Carell’s weary eyes. The actor deftly conveys how parents can’t do much for teenage addicts, and Chalamet completely captures the cycles of self-abuse often contained in young addicts. Nic gets down on himself for using and so uses to feel better and so crashes again and so uses again—and so on and so on. And David goes through all of the possible approaches, trying to help until he realizes perhaps there’s nothing he can do but be there when his son finally climbs out of his personal hell.”

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

After a while, we realize that Nic is going to show up, looking a little more zoned-out and disheveled than he did before, and that David is going to do all he can to reach out to him, and that it probably won’t work. Then the cycle repeats itself, in slightly more desperate and harried form.

I wish ‘Beautiful Boy,’ for all its honesty and skill, summoned the power to shock us. Yet part of the film’s strategy is to say that no movie can communicate the true inner essence of the drug life, which is what meth feels like in the bloodstream. That’s a sensation we have to imagine, and so Nic’s immersion in drugs isn’t, for the audience, about experiencing a vicarious high, or even gawking at the lows. It’s about watching a young man drift away from the people who love him because his spirit has gone underground.

A concluding critique from Linda Holmes, NPR: “Chalamet’s charismatic, maddening Nic is spectacular, and the film’s stubbornly unresolved view of loving an addict — its perception of the experience as a grueling, endless walk beside someone — is brutal but feels honest.”

Selected Quotes from Beautiful Boy, the Memoir

Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself.

An alcoholic will steal your wallet and lie to you. A drug addict will steal your wallet and then help you look for it.

At my worst, I even resented Nic because an addict, at least when high, has a momentary respite from his suffering. There is no similar relief for parents or children or husbands or wives or others who love them.

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