Monday, January 14, 2019

Beautiful Boy - a film review

I watched Beautiful Boy on Amazon Prime last night, Timothée Chalamet's "other" movie besides Call Me By Your Name. I had avoided it for some time because I was afraid I would not be able to take it in it fairly.  Because Timothée is so closely associated in my mind with that magnificent Italian summer love story, I was sure I wouldn't be able to accept him playing any other character.  I needn't have worried. I thought he was just splendid in Beautiful Boy.

I have also never connected with any of Steve Carell's characters before. I didn't dislike him; I just found him silly and uninteresting. But he's perfect for this role - the two together carry the film.

Which is quite a feat. Who wants to watch a story about a kid slowly killing himself with drugs?

When I first heard the plot line - boy takes drugs, falls apart - something in me said you just can't make a movie about this - there is no story; it's just one long extended tragic event. And why watch a father-son pair fail to connect?  Seems to me there's enough misery in the world. There's nothing new about parents and children who appear to come from separate planets. I don't need to watch a father fail to raise a son properly. What's to gain from another story simply repeating the fact that none of us are perfect and we all fail to rise to the challenges life throws at us? 

Those were the thoughts running through my mind as I was getting into the film. The "moral" of the story, if there was one, was not that we fail to live up to our hopes and dreams but that some challenges are simply too big for us to handle. But that wasn't new, and I'd say one doesn't need to watch a movie to get this message; most of us have digested it a long time ago. Nobody wants to watch kids on drugs. Nobody needs to be reminded that America does a piss poor job of treating drug addictions as an illness and not a crime. And nobody needs to watch a film in which relapsing after going straight for months or years remains a constant possibility.

But I give the movie a high recommendation despite all this. Watch it for the acting, for a sense of connection with anyone hit by the tragedy of drug addiction in the family. And pay no attention to that bozo reviewer in the New Republic who didn't like the movie because it's about white people with good skin instead of people born in poverty with ravaged skin - the kind of homeless you cross the street to avoid. He may be right in suggesting these people are more representative examples of drug addicts, but he misses a larger point. Just because the poor have it a lot worse than the rich doesn't mean the rich are not on the same merry-go-round and can sometimes fail to catch the brass ring. Watching the poor suffer usually leads you to attribute their misery to their poverty. Much of the time it is. But Beautiful Boy's power is in its getting you to ask whether many of our assumptions about the causes of drug abuse might deserve a closer investigation. And in the fact that it is based on two true stories worth telling and listening to. Or, rather, one story told from two different perspectives - about how sometimes love is simply not enough.


arvind said...

Thanks for the review. I have the same concerns that you had but overcame.

Bill Sweigart said...

Thanks for a great review. I look forward to seeing this film now. I would have brought the same set of reservations.

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