“Beautiful Boy” is a compelling story about addiction and a family’s struggle to cope. Directed by Felix van Groeningen and based on the best-selling memoirs by David and Nic Sheff, it’s a movie that is heartbreaking to watch, but in the end, it is also a reminder that there’s always hope for recovery.
As the movie opens, journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) sits in the office of an addiction expert. He’s not there for an interview. Instead, he’s asking for personal advice regarding his son, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) who is suffering from addiction. It’s clear from the conversation that David doesn’t know where else to go or what else to do. He’s desperate because he doesn’t know who his son is anymore and he’s losing him.
A Special Relationship
David and his son Nic have a special relationship that many dads and their sons don’t have. As a young boy, Nic spent the majority of his time living in San Francisco with his dad and step-mother Karen (Maura Tierney) but spent the holidays in Los Angeles with his biological mom. Throughout the movie, David’s memories take him back to various times throughout Nic’s childhood and teenage years as he reflects on his son’s sweet personality, creative talents, and adventurous spirit.
David and Nic used to surf together, talk about life, listen to music, and drop in at their favorite restaurant often. But once Nic started using drugs, he became distant, would disappear for days without explanation, and lied, manipulated, and kept secrets from his dad.
As a concerned father with limited knowledge about addiction, David struggles to figure out what is happening to his “beautiful boy” and watches helplessly as Nic sinks deeper and deeper into depression and substance abuse.
A Painful True Story About Addiction
Like many other parents with addicted children, David initially believes he can save Nic from his addiction. He spends countless hours driving around the city searching for Nic when he doesn’t come home, he pays for rehab multiple times, and he drops everything to fly to New York when he finds out Nic has overdosed and is in the hospital there.
All throughout the first half of the movie, David’s actions suggest that he believes if he just loves Nic enough and supports him enough, he’ll eventually come around and just return to the same sweet, talented boy that he used to be.
However, slowly but surely, David begins to understand the painful truth about addiction: an addicted person can’t fully recover until they are ready to help themselves. Nic had been using drugs and alcohol to fill a void in his life and he wasn’t ready to give that up completely. His disease would compel him to keep using until he decided that he wanted to be sober more than he wanted to use.
A Family Disease
“Beautiful Boy” primarily focuses on David’s experience dealing with his son’s addiction and is a revealing take on the struggles a family faces when a loved one is addicted. Nic’s family rejoices with him when he achieves days and months sober, but they also grieve deeply when he relapses and falls back into his addiction.
As Nic continually relapses, his family members learn what it’s like to grieve for someone who is living, as though they had already died. The fear, worry, and agony serve as a constant reminder that at any moment, they could receive a phone call from the hospital with news of his inevitable death.
While Nic is homeless on the streets of California, David continues to live his life at home with his wife and two younger children. However, his mind is always far away with his son Nic, as he wonders where he is, what he’s doing, and whether or not he’s okay.
Although David sees glimpses of his beautiful boy again at times throughout the movie, the film ends with Nic still struggling with his addiction. Both father and son are unsure of the future and unprepared for what is to come.
Although a movie could never fully capture the depth of addiction and its impact on the drug abuser or their loved ones, “Beautiful Boy” skims the surface with a heartfelt story and ends on a hopeful note that reminds the viewer that recovery is possible. In real life, Nic Sheff’s recovery is a daily struggle, but he is currently eight years sober.