Our guest writer/correspondence John H Foote writes from TIFF18, about Steve Carrell and Timothee Chalamet starrer – Beautiful Boy
The love of a parent is something children will never understand until they are parents themselves, should they ever be so lucky. It begins the moment we see the newborn child, a ferocious sense to protect from harm is what we fathers feel, to love and nurture what mothers feel. And we never give up on them, no matter how crazy they might be, dark their behaviour might become we are always there for them. The greatest reference I can offer about the depth of love parents feel is to point to killer Karla Homolka and her mother who knew of her daughters’ crimes (her own sister among her victims) and still loved her, supported her and visited her in jail. I am fortunate to be very close to my father, the best man I know. There are no pretentions with him, he is who he is and he does not care if you like that or not, that is him. He has been with me through some dark times and never faltered. When everyone has given up on you, chances are your parents never will, at least if they are at all like mine.
Nick (Timothee Chalamet) and his father David (Steve Carell) were as close as a father and son can be, David retaining custody in the divorce when his wife, Vicki (Amy Ryan) needed to find herself. Nick loves David’s second wife, Karen (Maura Tierney) and adores his step brother and sister who love him with equal abandon. When Nick begins experimenting with marijuana his father is not worried, but things escalate very quickly and before he realizes it, Nick is a drug addict, having graduated from pot to cocaine, heroin and now crystal meth.
David watches in horror as his son, his beautiful boy becomes a stranger to him, one who lies, steals, cheats and betrays him in every possible way. One after one rehab visits fail to get Nick on the straight and narrow, and though bright, realizing what the drugs are doing to him, he seems powerless to stop. Nick is as devastated as his father by what happens to their relationship, his father eventually little more than an ATM to the drug-addled kid, until finally, he stops all giving, realizing he cannot help. When eight dollars goes missing from his little brothers’ life savings, David realizes Nick is beyond help.
Nick hooks up with his college sweetheart and they return to his fathers’ home not to visit but to rob them, breaking in, stealing electronics to sell for drugs, the greatest betrayal he could conceive. The next time Nick calls, the father ends contact for good, but of course, nothing is forever. When Nick overdoses and nearly dies, his father is there yet again, and this time the young man fights harder than he ever did before, and end credits tell us he now is eight years clean.
The film is a devastating account of what addiction must be like not only for the addicted but for the parent, who watches helplessly, not understanding the need for the drug. If the film has a single failing, it is never answering what drove Nick to such hard drugs? A creative kid, excellent writer and student, a college would have allowed him to surely spread his wings and fly, but instead, he fell to earth a hopeless drug addict. Why? Not lack of love that is for sure. He tells us when he took meth for the first time he felt better than he ever had before, and I suppose the need is to repeat that feeling over and over, but of course, the first time never can come again.
Chalamet is extraordinary as Nick, cementing his growing reputation as one of the finest young actors at work. His sublime performance in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (2017) earned him a Best Actor nomination and he should be in the running this year for Best Supporting Actor. Beyond the obvious drugged out or withdrawal scenes he captures, and beautifully, the need for the drugs, knowing they are his ruin. He must have them and though he apologizes over and over to his poor father, it is always going to end the same. You can see him all but swoon with pure bliss as the drug hits his brain, and alter his perception. The mood swings are explosively real, frightening, coming without warning, and breaking the hearts of those around him.
Steve Carell. When did this guy become such a profoundly good actor?? He was great in ‘Foxcatcher’ (2014) a couple of years ago, but goes further, deeper with this. You can feel the weight of concern, of worry, of abject terror on his face as he worries about his son. The late nights, the calls to the police and hospital, he goes through a living hell with this boy he so loves. Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan have smaller roles, but each actress fills them out with great compassion and humanity. Director Felix Van Groeningen does a fine job with the actors, and balancing the tricky broken narrative he uses in exploring the relationship of father and son. Broken souls are captured on the silver screen. A fine film, filled with hurt and heartbreak.
The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5