One of my pet peeves in movies is the utter repetition of drug-addiction stories, the lather-rinse-repeat screenwriting rhythm of relapse, recovery and deeper relapse. If I never again see an actor going through the motions of tying off and shooting up, I’ll be a happy man.
(This is not to dismiss real people going through the real pain of drug addiction. This is a complaint about the unimaginative cinematic depiction of those people and that pain.)
A talented cast, highlighted by rising star Timothée Chalamet, goes through this familiar process in “Beautiful Boy,” a well-executed but still predictable trudge through the family pain of addiction.
The movie draws from two memoirs, by magazine reporter David Sheff (played by Steve Carell) and his son Nick (played by Chalamet), about Nick’s long battle with drugs and how it affected David and the rest of the family.
At times, Nick seems to be getting his act together, enrolling in community college, showing signs of life. But eventually, Nick gets high — meth is his drug of choice in the beginning of the film, but heroin makes an appearance soon enough — it all falls apart again, like an endless game of Chutes and Ladders.
Meanwhile, David tries to apply tough love, as well as his journalistic talents, to try and figure this out. He interviews a doctor (Timothy Hutton) about what addiction does to the brain and the body. He goes with Nick to rehab clinics and treatment centers. He even tries snorting a little, just so he can understand the experience.
Mostly, David gets angry — at Nick, at his ex-wife Vicki (Amy Ryan), and at the fates who have dealt his family this blow. He talks things over with his current wife, Karen (Maura Tierney), and works to protect their two young children.
Belgian director Felix van Groeningen (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”) makes his English-language debut here, and he has a gift for capturing family intimacy at its most intense. There are some set pieces here, like when Nick reunites with a high-school classmate (Kaitlyn Never) and draws her into his spiraling drug habit, that are heartbreakingly intense.
But van Groeningen and co-writer Luke Davies (“Lion”) fall prey to the same story patterns as so many addiction stories, which are as hard to escape, it seems, as the grip of addiction itself. As good as the cast is, particularly Chalamet in his fearless depiction of Nick’s rollercoaster existence, “Beautiful Boy” remains a chore to watch.
Opened October 12 in select cities; opens Friday, November 2, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City) and Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy). Rated R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material. Running time: 120 minutes.