Right off the bat, I’ll just say that my biggest gripe with Beautiful Boy is that it focuses less on its title character. The film may be based on a memoir by David Sheff, the father who tried helping his son battle meth addiction. However, the film would have benefitted from focusing almost entirely on the son himself. It is partially because of the commanding performance from Timothee Chalamet and also because of poor characterization.
As Nic Sheff, David’s son who fought addiction, Timothee Chalamet is easily best in show. Even if it doesn’t top his brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance as Elio in Call Me By Your Name, he still shows that Call Me By Your Name was definitely not a fluke. With just his eyes, he manages to capture the feeling of showing signs that you’re having trouble even if those around you can’t seem to get the gravity of your situation. Even when his character bursts into slight histrionics, he knows when not to go overboard. Chalamet is the film’s heart and soul and the film would’ve been better served if it was focused entirely on his perspective.
However, it would’ve also been nice if we had gotten more insight into the perspective of the maternal figures involved in Nic’s life. Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan do the most with what they’re given as Nic’s stepmother and mother, respectively, but they’re still given so little to work with. Tierney is given a bit more material than Ryan yet she still is forced to build her character from the ground up despite having little dialogue.
Ironically, despite the film being about a father-son relationship, it feels like it needed less focus on the father. It isn’t necessarily because of Steve Carell’s performance as David. He does a fine job with what he was given. It’s mainly because of the way the character was written. Now, I know that not every movie dad has to be like Mr. Penderghast from Easy A and there’s always room for complexity. Yet at the same time, David is depicted in such an unlikeable manner. For example, when Nic first starts seeking treatment, David immediately starts guilting him by hanging his previous accomplishments over his head.
For what it’s worth, the movie does attempt to show that just because parents raised their children and gave birth to them, it doesn’t automatically mean they know their kids inside and out. Even though Nic seemed like someone who had his life together because of his school achievements and the stable household he lived in, he still slowly went down the wrong path. In fact, it’s hinted at that part of the reason Nic turned to addiction might have to do with pressure put on him by his father.
The movie's heart is certainly in the right place. However, it still becomes hampered by the poorly written father-son dynamic and also aimless flashback sequences that aren't always aligned in the right place. But thanks to an incredibly committed performance by Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy manages to be slightly watchable.