I haven’t read a review of Beautiful Boy, yet, preferring as usual to give my original take. But I will take a guess as to why the film only received 69% Rotten Tomatoes (77 Audience, always way smarter aka Bohemian Rhapsody). Envelope to my head like Carmac the Magnificent, I’m going to guess ‘too long’ and ‘too depressing’, but I think anyone would be hard pressed to do a Mel Brooks “Crystal Meth: The Musical”. If you’re patient enough to read my review, I promise to read some reviews and save you the trouble with a Post Script down below.
I actually am daughter to a Dad (no spoiler there) who annually winds up in the hospital with heart trouble. He’s had triple bypass, angioplasty, many stints of stents, etc. Still, he continues his wanton ways; multiple beers a night, horrific dietary practices: Pepsi for breakfast, gravy for lunch, some processed meat for dinner, with plenty of sugary goodies sprinkled in all day long. The long story short of that tale is that others are often aghast that I don’t go running to the hospital every time I get the call.
Watch Beautiful Boy for the full two hours and you’ll see Steve Carell’s character reach the same (I need to keep boundaries to keep my sanity) conclusion. He (in this case the he of the movie is the tremendously talented Timothy Chalamet) won’t change his habits so there is really no fan fare (which in the end only results in negative reinforcement) or hand wringing that can make someone change unhealthy behavior. Only you can prevent forest fires (or in this case, substance abuse).
Here’s what was wrong about the movie: it didn’t need to be two hours. The first 15 minutes were a weird kind of guessing game about who was related to who and a time line regarding Carell’s wife and children. We didn’t need that puzzle. As Gordy Hoffman taught us in BlueCat Screenwriting, get to a main conflict within the first 13 (or was it 10?) pages.
Also there wasn’t a clear explanation of his Timothy Hutton office visit. He seemed to be consulting the NY Times, then no, it was a doctor to do a NY Times article…then there’s a random scene (no explanation) of him at the Rolling Stone offices. Again, you don’t need to make the audience work to understand, unless you’re just padding the screenplay bra (when it should be au naturel).
Acting was top notch: Carell is unbelievable both in the past is several comedic roles and a wonder in this dramatically speaking, as he was in Foxcatcher. As previously mentioned Timothy Chalamet, elsewhere the swaggering handsome guy, or in Call Me By Your Name, the vulnerable college aged guy, was tremendous. What brave roles for both these guys who certainly must be able to call the shots on what films to do. Bravo to them for taking the time to spend on a real topic about real people. Gorgeous. the female roles while minor in scope, were beautifully done: Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan, both oozing with sincerity.
So I give Luke Davies (co-writer) and Felix Van Groeningen (co-writer and director) a pass on the few quibbles I have with the total picture. Felix, by the way, previously directed the movie Broken Circle Breakdown, and while it’s been years since I saw it, remember balling my eyes out. I expected to, but did not, cry at Beautiful Boy, though came close at the airport scene when Carrell tells his son he loves him more than everything. But then again, due to my daughterly experience, when at first I did run to the hospital and now merely blink, take a deep breath and go check on Grandma, I have come to the conclusion that my Dad is living the life he wants to lead, however reckless that it is, rather than choose change which while a relatively painful journey (facing his demons, denying his fat and sugar needs) would most probably reap deeper benefits. I’m ok and you will be, too, even after seeing this film.
POST SCRIPT: Wow, and you thought I was heartless, the reviewers ruthless….”messagey Oscar bait” and as Carmac predicted “exhausting”. That’s what addictive behavior becomes to those on the sidelines, honey..exhausting.