(Release Info London schedule; January 18th, 2019, Picturehouse, 12:15 PM)
"Beautiful Boy" is a deeply moving portrait of a family’s unwavering love and commitment to each other in the face of their son’s addiction and his attempts at recovery. Based on two memoirs, one from journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) and one from his son, Nic Sheff (Timothée Charlamet). As Nic repeatedly relapses, 'The Sheffs' are faced with the harsh reality that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and can hit any family at any time.
At 18, Nicolas Sheff is a good student, editor of his high school newspaper, an actor in the school play and a member of the water polo team. A voracious reader and a talented artist, Nic is set to enter college in the fall. He has started experimenting with drugs when he was 12, but in his late teens he tried meth for the first time and, the world went from black and white to 'Technicolor'. Nic went almost instantly from a teenager dabbling with substances to a having a full-blown dependency. "Beautiful Boy" is a searingly honest account of 'The Sheff' family’s journey through Nic’s continuing struggles with addiction. Based on David Sheff’s bestseller of the same name and his son Nic’s breakout memoir 'Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines', the film presents a unique portrait of the ways addiction can destroy lives and the power of love to rebuild them. Harrowing, heart-breaking and yet full of joy, hope, and love, "Beautiful Boy" recounts the rehabs, disappearances, broken promises and rage as Nic sinks deeper into the drug world, as well as David’s efforts to save his boy from the ravages of addiction.
In 2005 journalist David Sheff wrote 'My Addicted Son' for 'The New York Times Magazine'. A painfully frank and unforgettable first-hand account of his son Nic’s battle with addiction to drugs including methamphetamine and David’s efforts to save his family, which includes his second wife Karen Barbour (Maura Tierney) and their two much younger children Jasper (Christian Convery) and Daisy (Oakley Bull), during an almost decade-long ordeal. Nic is a young man who's out of control, all without losing the audience’s sympathy. What makes it especially sad and painful to watch is that he should lucid enough to realize what he’s doing. He's trapped by the drugs and the situation he’s gotten himself into. As Nic describes so well in the book, there’s a cycle of shame; you relapse; you feel bad about it, so you take more drugs; you run out of money, so you steal; and then you've to take more drugs to forget about the horrible things you’ve done. Sentence by sentence, moment by moment, it's a very specific description of what Nic is going through and what it's like to be in the throes of drug addiction.
When you’re deep into it, you're not yourself. It’s as if there are two versions of Nic. His mind is on what’s right in front of him and what or where the next high is. It's very present, very personal and in the moment rather than, ‘I’m really devastating my family'. Initially it seems that Nic has just gotten a little off track and David and Karen address it right away. But things are not always as we hope for them to be. In the photos, Nic goes from insecure teenager to self-centered drug addict and then vulnerable adult. The earlier, happier versions of him wore a lot of primary colors. As his drug use begins, he moves through more secondary colors and as an adult it’s all neutral tones. It's surreal and with such a grasp of the intricacy of the push and pull of trust and love and betrayal that's "Beautiful Boy". Despite that, both Nic and David admit to feeling some trepidation as development of "Beautiful Boy" got under way. They would, after all, be entrusting people with the most difficult and personal struggle of their lives.
Because this is primarily Nic and David’s story, it's simple to reduce the roles of Nic’s mother and stepmother to tropes. The businesswoman and the artist. But they're both really good mothers, in very different ways, and essential to the story. Karen Barbour, Nic’s stepmother and David’s wife reveals subtle but unmistakable strength, as well as a profound affection for Nic. You're aware that there's a deep bond between her and Nic. But when his behavior crosses the line, she feels violated and protective of her younger children, Jasper and Daisy. Her relationship with Nic is special. She’s a well-known artist and they loved to paint and draw together. They speak French with one another and play word games. She has a very warm and loving relationship with him. Vicki (Amy Ryan), is David Sheff’s first wife and Nic’s birth mother. Vicki has remarried and is living in Los Angeles, where young Nic spent holidays and summers. The revelation that Nic has a serious drug problem comes as a bombshell for her. Like Karen, she also is a rock for Nic and takes over when David is unable to continue.
Vicki, David and Karen are confronted with Nic’s addiction. Was it their fault? What's the best solution? As a parent, you’re always going to question whether you could have done something different. All three parents struggle with that. At times they've different ideas about what’s best for Nic, but ultimately they're there for their child. Dr. Brown (Timothy Hutton) is an eminent authority on the devastating effect of crystal meth on the brain, is a composite of the many medical professionals David Sheff consulted over the years. Spencer (Andre Royo) is Nic’s then-AA sponsor. Spencer doesn’t know how much of an impact he’ll ultimately have on Nic or how much help he can be. He knows that sometimes just being there's as important as anything he can do. The characters in the movie have to find their own arc. David’s book is written from the vantage point of looking back. But the movie has to show what’s happening in the moment. Balancing those arcs and juxtaposing them with each other is essential.
This film is based on David and Nic Sheff's memoirs back in 2014. David and Nic write from their personal experiences of living through recovery and relapses, but also the moments of life’s joy, innocence, and love. They start out thinking that they've the tools to deal with Nic’s addiction, to solve it. They don’t, but they learn a lot along the way. As time passes, there are moments where control seems beyond their reach and they experience how the consequences of addiction affect every fiber of their lives. The family believes love, and yet they've to come to terms with the fact that there are no easy answers and dealing with addiction is impossibly irrational. The Sheff’s are honest about everything they went through, sharing their deepest fears and feelings of shame too. To experience how they live and how close they're is really amazing to see. The core of the family, which gets tested in a very big way, and the idea of genuinely being there for each other moved very much. The film gives voice to many people struggling with addiction. To show in a simple, honest and raw way, the complexity of the illness. The film helps people to feel and understand different points of view and might open the hearts and minds of the people who see it.
The film is an epic story, but it's also extraordinarily intimate. It sees the beauty in life and the difficulties in life as inseparable and part the whole experience of being human. Maybe it’s because both David and Nic really love film, so when they write, they think about images or situations that are cinematic, like when they go surfing. All of a sudden, it’s foggy and dark and David loses his son. That's an incredible metaphor for the entire film. Ultimately, it's because the story feels so mythical and universal. It's exiting to show that special bond, what they shared and what they're at risk of losing. It’s heart-wrenching, especially because this is a family where there's so much love that none of them can fathom what’s happening. On top of that, it’s not one person’s story. Nic and David are equally present throughout. Often movies about addiction are about people coming out of rehab and restarting their lives. Or it’s about the experience itself with all it's ups and down. It’s a tough topic, yet the darkness is countered by a love for life, and the highs are really high.
The pain 'The Sheffs' go through is not uncommon in America today. Beyond that, however their story will resonate for anyone who has raised a child, even those whose families have not been affected by addiction. Nurturing a child is one of the fundamental parts of the human experience. As the child becomes fully grown, the parent has to let go and let the child fend for himself. It’s a democratic phenomenon that doesn’t care how much money or love or education you've. So seeing a boy who comes from a beautiful place and has people who did their best to help him is excruciating precisely because it upends our cognitive bias about addiction. Rather than try to place blame for Nic’s addiction, "Beautiful Boy" takes a clear-eyed and intimate look at a family grappling with a devastating and growing phenomenon. In the past, and to some extent, still, addiction has been perceived. Addicts were kept at a distance. But we’ve come to understand that this is something that can happen to anyone, anywhere. So many families face these issues. The film wants to make sure addiction and recovery were handled in a subtle, complex and realistic way.
The film plays with time in the beginning in order to grab the audience’s attention before diving in head first. "Beautiful Boy" includes numerous flashbacks to happier times before Nic became addicted, it's told in a fairly straightforward manner. The film shows what the family has lost, or what they’re about to lose. What sets this film apart is it's point of view. It feels like a window onto the disease of addiction that we hadn’t seen before. Addiction is the great equalizer. We’ve been trained to associate it with income status and moral failing. In reality, addiction is a disease that's rooted in non-moral circumstances, but it's taboo in our culture to talk about it that way. What makes us care is this loving but conflicted relationship between father and son. The story is heartbreaking, but also inspiring and hopeful. It puts forth an ideal of parenting as not giving up in the face of difficulty. If you acknowledge it as a disease, it's not something that should create shame.
"Beautiful Boy" can start a much-needed dialogue. We judge their bad choices. We judge their families. We judge ourselves. We've stigmatized addiction. The judgment is so harsh that we hide and when we hide we feel like we’re alone. We all like to think of it as something that happens to someone else, but it's hard to find a family that has not been touched by addiction. The way "Beautiful Boy’s" narrative is structured, mimics the way memory works. At every crossroads in your life, you think, how did I get to this point? It’s a very natural thing for people to do, which is why they respond well to that kind of storytelling. The secret to making it work is that every cut back and forth has to have some kind of emotional logic.