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Beautiful Boy Is Deeply Flawed But Must Be Watched

Beautiful  Boy(Amazon)

Starring Steve Carell, Timothy Chalamet

Directed  by Felix Van Groeningen

Rating: ***(3 stars)

There  is  so  much that this  heartshattering drama  about a distraught father coping with his son’s drug addiction, could  have done. Instead  Beautiful Boy plays it safe.  It casts beautiful-boy Timothee Chalamet as Nic Sheff, a teenager trying to shrug off  his addiction  even as he sinks lower and lower into the abyss of drug abuse.

Chalamet takes care of all the sympathy that the  plot  needs  to muster  for us to  go along with his  nervewracking  journey into selfdestruction. The  film  is based on Nic Sheff’s account Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines  as well as his father David Sheff’sBeautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction,so we  ought to have been provided  with a spectral  double  view  of  a family tragedy that unfolds over a period of several years during which time the young addict’s life comes apart at  the seams.

Soon, as I  watched the honest but  not memorable film, I realized this is not Nic’s  story. It is his father’s story of coping with  a crisis  of  unimaginable  proportions as  his family life falls apart. How much  of himself can David Sheff give to his son’s problem before giving up the fight? The  film,in its own somnolent style, shows us the threshold of  parental patience. And  Steve Carrell is fine if not memorable, as  the  father. This is  more his story than his son’s.

It’s easier  to follow the father’s ‘feud’-steps  as he moves  further  and further away from his son’s emotional  axis. There are  sequences that  are designed to bring us close to tears.But we never gte that close to the characters  to feel their  pain.  The emotional  responses  never emerge organically from the  plot characters. Carrell and Chalamet playing the  estranged father-son routine  seem to say all the right things to each other with just the right pauses and  punctuations. It’s almost like watching them  do a translation  of  the real emotions in digestible terms.

I missed a  sense  of unrehearsed  spontaneity in the  dialogues  . In addition, the unhurried pace  and the repetitive  mode of unveiling the  inherently-dramatic  dysfunctionalism(drug addict comes home,disappears, comes  home…) makes Beautiful Boy more remarkable for what  it  sets out to  say rather than the way it says  it.

Not that  the  film is  without its moments.  In some  sequences we see Nic’s naked anguish as  he stares  blankly into his own future. Chalamet, so effective as a  man-boy discovering gay love in Call Me By Your Name  is  deeply effective  though  not as impact-driven as  Lucas Hedges in  Ben Is Back , that  other recent  more powerful drama  of a parent coping with the son’s drug addiction.

Beautiful Boy  is  riddled with  problems, none of which are related  to the  protagonist’s drug addiction. It jumps  back and forth  impatiently creating a breach between the characters  , their problems and our empathy for them. But the background score is  magnificent. The narrative uses  insistent  pounding rock sounds to  echo Nic’s psyche and  settles down for a quieter musical statement   at the end when all options for redemption are exhausted.

So, to be honest, are we.

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