‘Beautiful Boy’ is too safe for a drug abuse film


Dial back the beauty, boys.

The true story of a father dealing with his son’s methamphetamine addiction, “Beautiful Boy” seems to take its title less from the John Lennon song than its picturesque California setting.

For every scene showing a life destroyed by drugs, there’s another happy-go-lucky chat set in the most gorgeous kitchen you’ve ever laid eyes on. Why focus on pain when you can gawk at a tile backsplash?

Sure, an 18-year-old meth addict can grow up in an HGTV dream house, but it’s the filmmakers’ job to make that abode fit the traumatic circumstances surrounding it. They haven’t. Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen has delivered too safe a movie, which fights against two terrific actors bravely baring their souls.

Steve Carell plays David Sheff, a freelance journalist and doting dad to three kids, including teenage Nic (Timothée Chalamet), an aspiring writer. The film jumps back and forth through time as we watch Nic as an affectionate tyke, who can barely go two seconds without hugging his dad, juxtaposed with a turbulent teenage rebel whose mind has been warped by crystal meth. The contrast, which Chalamet plays with great vulnerability, is heart-wrenching.

The movie stays admirably true to the lives its based on, by showing the many, many times Nic relapses. “Relapse is part of recovery” is said a few times, and Nic’s story sadly follows that rule. Just when you think his life is on track, he has a moment of weakness and is back at square one, stealing his toddler brother’s savings and stumbling around the streets of San Francisco. The same situation plays out over and over, straining the ability of his father and stepmother (a strong, but warm Maura Tierney) to care. Some moviegoers won’t like the uncertain final scene, but it’s spot on.

So is Carell. I finally came around to the actor doing serious roles during last year’s “Last Flag Flying,” when he shed all the comic enormity of Michael Scott and Evan Baxter and played a Vietnam veteran burying his son. Carell’s niche right now isn’t awkward anchormen, but parents going through hell.

He makes a believable dad to the equally moving Chalamet, who writhes, screams and cries, but never showboats. The perfect pair is better than this movie.

By Johnny Oleksinski

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