Sunday, 20 January 2019

Review: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy
Cert: 15 / 120 mins / Dir. Felix Van Groeningen / Trailer

And now to the golden, rolling hills of Marin County California, home to Skywalker Ranch and the beating heart of all that is Star Wars. But we're not here for deathsticks, we're here for a tale of weed, pills, crystal meth and good ol' fashioned heroin. So closer to Ewan McGregor's turn in Trainspotting than Attack Of The Clones, then. Which might explain why my brain kept starting Lust For Life at inappropriate moments throughout Beautiful Boy

Based on the twin-memoirs of the real-life protagonists, the story follows David Sheff (Steve Carell) as he tries to reconcile his teenage son Nic's (Timothée Chalamet) escalating addiction to a range of narcotics with holding together the rest of his family (Maura Tierney as David's partner Karen, and their two young children played by Oakley Bull and Christian Convery), and maintaining a civil relationship with his ex-wife and Nic's mum, Vicki (Amy Ryan). Earnest hand-wringing all round.


My observation at the top wasn't just glib sarcasm, Beautiful Boy really is Trainspotting for the middle-aged, middle-class fan of generational angst, there are glimpses of bleakness at regular intervals, but on the whole it's a reassuringly safe journey, told from a father's perspective. That said, enjoyment of this film will depend largely on what baggage the viewer has brought in with them.

In an early conversation, Carrell's David has a conversation with his son who is just starting to seriously experiment with drugs. Nic tries to articulate his frustration but only manages something about 'blocking out stupid reality'. When the father asks in a state of genuine puzzlement "…what's stupid about reality?", everyone in the auditorium suddenly realises which side of the fence they're watching the movie from.


Delicately handled by director Groeningen, the end product isn't quite as syrupy as you might expect but tells most of its story from David's perspective and so avoids a lot of the grit. It often feels like Beautiful Boy is afraid to get its hands dirty, for the fear of not being able to clean them again in time for the closing credits.

Outstanding work from Timothée Chalamet throughout holds the whole thing together. Carrell, Tierney and Ryan are strong too, but this isn't their film. They're a supporting-cast in every sense, and are playing in far broader ways. Also worth noting is the solid casting of Kue Lawrence and Jack Dylan Grazer as younger versions of Nic in the intermittent flashbacks. Their performances aren't showy or overly foreshadowing, but they sell the evolution of the protagonist effortlessly (in all fairness, the only character in the film who actually appears to age).

Beautiful Boy isn't a perfect ride, and our director clearly has an eye on his awards-cabinet when that's unlikely to come to fruition, but it's made with sincerity. Perhaps ironically, that's both the film's biggest problem and its saving grace…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Beautiful Boy plays like a bittersweet sequel to The Way, Way Back, covering the next darker chapter where everything wasn't alright after all.
But the unfocused anger at the centre of it all is the same

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Only if you already know you're going to get the right things out of it. Which sort of defeats the object of watching a new film, admittedly.

Although it's perhaps worth noting that as evangelical as I am about my Unlimited card, I didn't get to catch the pre-Christmas advance screening of this and now it's not playing at my local. As a result, I did pay to watch this (albeit the £4.99 that Vue are charging in their region cinemas these days) and I rather enjoyed it. Make of that what you will

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say, but everyone should be fairly proud of what they've made.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
It's entirely possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Timothée Chalamet was in Interstellar, alongside David 'Agent Kallus' Oyelowo, and John 'Yoda In The TESB Radio Drama' Lithgow.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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