Playing a down-and-out drug addict is a rite of passage for a young actor, from Al Pacino in “The Panic In Needle Park” to Robert Downey Jr. in “Less Than Zero” to Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Basketball Diaries.”
Timothée Chalamet takes on the challenge in “Beautiful Boy,” playing a meth addict in director Felix Van Groeningen’s up and down family drama. The film successfully chronicles the hopelessness, despair and collateral damage of addiction, but it sometimes trips itself up in its presentation.
Its heart is firmly in the right place, however.
Chalamet is arresting as Nic Sheff, a well-to-do teenager whose experimentation with drugs leads to heavy addiction. Steve Carell is quietly devastating as his father, David, who is trying to wrap his head around what has happened, and what is happening, to his son.
Director Groeningen, working from a screenplay he wrote with Luke Davies based on the twin memoirs of Nic and David Sheff, jumbles the time structure in the first half of the film. It comes in waves, almost as if we’re in David’s head, as he deals with the present, along with memories of his son.
A curious framing device at the front end introduces David as a high-profile reporter, which is merely background information in the movie, and David’s personal journey toward understanding his son — including his own experimentation with drugs — is given short shrift.
Groeningen, meanwhile, overdoses on grandiose musical cues. The film is put on pause as it becomes music videos for Sigur Ros’ “Svefn-g-englar,” Massive Attack’s “Protection” and Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings.” But when the family dynamics are front and center, “Beautiful Boy” resonates, as it reflects the ugliness of addiction and the long tail it wags.
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