A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beautiful Boy is an intense drama based on the true story of a teen (Timothée Chalamet) who's seriously addicted to drugs, including crystal meth. Scenes show him preparing drugs with a spoon and lighter, injecting drugs, stealing pills and popping them, driving under the influence, attending meetings, etc. He smokes pot with his father (Steve Carell); in one scene, the dad also snorts cocaine. Language is very strong, with multiple uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Teens have sex in a shower, with kissing, thrusting, and moaning, but no explicit nudity. Characters shout and argue, and a teen girl nearly dies of an overdose but is saved through CPR. While the performances are fine and the certainly gets its anti-drug message across, it's grueling and heavy-handed, as well as very mature.
What's the story?
In BEAUTIFUL BOY, freelance journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) is a divorced dad with a teen son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet), from his previous marriage to Vicki (Amy Ryan). Now David is married to Karen (Maura Tierney) and has two young children with her, but of course he still loves Nic, too, so he wants to help his firstborn deal with his drug use. David goes to a doctor to find out what to do, especially regarding Nic's new and frightening addiction to crystal meth. From there it's a bumpy journey as Nic goes to rehab, tries to straighten out, and then starts using again. David makes many trips out into the night to find Nic, and they have share lots of hugs and meetings in cafes during which Nic tries to hide that he's still using. Finally David comes to the realization that, as much as he wants to help, there's only so much he can do. The rest is up to Nic.
Is it any good?
Expertly acted to be sure, this drug-addiction drama is also grueling and repetitive; it wobbles between making drug use look sexy and being an after-school special. Director Felix Van Groeningen previously made Belgium's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee The Broken Circle Breakdown, and he uses the same techniques on Beautiful Boy as he did for that film: heavy-handed soap opera and scenes assembled out of chronological order for no discernible reason. Some scenes have no particular point of view -- or many points of view. And some seem mainly designed to break up the misery with happier memories from the past, although this ploy fails, since the return to the wretched present is inevitable.
Oscar nominee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) brings his trademark James Dean-like rebel swagger to his role, which is a young actor's dream: He gets to scream and cry and confess things from the depths of his soul, all while being the most attractive screen drug addict in some time. Carell gives a sturdier, quieter performance, although most of what he does is stare at computer screens, talk on the phone, or drive a car. Van Groeningen includes lots and lots of alt-rock songs on the soundtrack to illustrate the beauty or anguish of any given moment, but as the movie drags on toward the two-hour mark -- and viewers realize they've seen the same kind of relapse-argument-recovery sequences over and over -- it all starts to feel achingly tiresome.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Beautiful Boy portrays drug use/addiction. Does the movie warn viewers against drug use, or is it made to look appealing in any way? What are the consequences? Are they realistic?
What is the father-son relationship like? How do they communicate? How would you describe Davd's parenting style?
How accurate do you think the movie is to the memoirs it's based on? Why might filmmakers change things in movies based on true stories? How could you find out more?
Do you agree with David's painful decision? Was there anything else he could have done?
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