Just out of high school in Marin County, California, and free to attend any of the six colleges that have accepted him, Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) is handsome, whip-smart and completely addicted to drugs, chiefly crystal meth. "It takes the edge off stupid, all-day reality," he explains to his father David (Steve Carell, superb), a journalist whose love for Nic and desire to be his best pal have blinded him to the truth of his son's life. The imperfect yet affecting new film Beautiful Boy, based on memoirs by the real-life Nic and David, examines addiction and its effects on one family. But it's also a meditation on memory and the difficulty of reconciling the happiness of the past with a present that's become too sad to bear.
Belgian writer-director Felix Van Groeningen (The Misfortunates, The Broken Circle Breakdown, both Foreign Film Oscar nominees) and his longtime editor Nico Leunen, juxtapose the worn Nic slumped in the passenger seat en route to rehab with memories flashing across David's mind of an earlier car trip, when Nic bobbed his head in time to a Nirvana jam on the radio, to his father's delight.
That idealized Nic, so happy and full of promise, will be the one mourned by David, his ex-wife (and David's mother) Vicki (Amy Ryan) and his current wife Karen (Maura Tierney), and even their two young children. Rehab becomes sobriety becomes relapse, a pitiless cycle of hope and disappointment too many of us will experience at one time or another, either as addict or loved one. Chalamet and Carell share a palpably deep connection.