Beautiful Boy is a film adaptation of two books, one by David Sheff, a freelance journalist who writes high profile articles for leading magazines and the other by his son, Nic Sheff, who is addicted.
We get both David and Nic’s stories (played by Steve Carrell and Timothee Chalamet respectively), which are further filtered through Felix Van Groeningen’s film and writer Luke Davis’s screenplay.
Beautiful Boy is non-judgmental. It communicates a sense of loss, frustration and grief surrounding David’s attempts at and ultimate failure to understand why Nic initially chooses and then relapses into drug use.
David and his ex-wife, Vicki, blame themselves and one another in their search for the spark that initiated Nic’s embrace of drugs, for he does embrace them willingly at the start.
Perhaps the point is that there may not be a definitive reason.
Nic reveals through his diaries that drug use for him turns his everyday day black and white life into a technicolour explosion.
He cannot go back to a normal grey life. He wants it to remain technicolour.
He knows that his life has been changed irrevocably by his drug use and that its impact on his father, siblings, stepmother and mother is devastating.
The film shows how Nic approaches drugs, experiences regret, recovers then relapses, experiences regret and recovers then relapses. It is a repetitive cycle.
It tends to make his dilemma unremarkable. A key aspect of Beautiful Boy is that drug use and abuse can become seemingly unexceptional, yet undoubtedly traumatic, for David, Nic and their families.
By restating the issues and moral conundrums repeatedly, Beautiful Boy feels like a campaign designed to assist anyone associated with drug abuse.
The end titles even present statistics about the impact of drugs on our community, and advocates that anyone experiencing similar issues to David and Nic should seek assistance from support agencies.
After several cycles of Nic’s episodes and David’s frustrations at understanding his son’s situation and attempting to work out what events in his and Nic’s lives triggered his drug abuse, he comes to the excruciating realisation that he can’t help Nic.
Scenes between David and Nic are intensely emotional, drug use is shown explicitly and the timeline is intertwined between the present and past.
Beautiful Boy makes drug addiction seem cut-and-dried but it will embrace you, wrestle your emotions and leave its mark.