how 'beautiful boy' captures the complexities of addiction

Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell star in a finely wrought story about the effects of meth addiction on a family.

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Oct 11 2018, 10:50pm

Image via Youtube. 

Americans have a hard time talking about addiction. Either we go for the fear-driven, overly simplistic method (think: the “Just Say No” campaigns), or we glamorise it. But the most prevalent method is to simply not talk about it. Beautiful Boy seeks to undo these American tendencies, painting an honest and multidimensional portrait of addiction and the team-effort it takes to pull someone out. Anyone can become an addict, the film shows us, but few can become “ex-addicts.” And it’s not because of any moral failing or lack of trying on their part.

Timothée Chalamet is the star of the show here (to no one’s surprise). He plays a full-of-wasted-potential, despondent teenager who spends all day in his room reading dense poetry, and doing drugs at night. (Nic is an equal-opportunity drugs user, but meth is his biggest addiction, he says.) Nic is a complicated character. The kind of big brother who plays games with his half-siblings one day, and then steals their meager piggy bank savings to score some meth with the next. But, much like his father (played by Steve Carell), you’re always holding out hope Nic will change. Even though all signs suggest he won’t. And he doesn’t. There’s a distinct pattern of relapse, recovery, relapse, recovery.

Timothée knows how to tug at our heartstrings (he walks a perfect line between sadboi and douchebag), and our continual, illogical belief in Nic is most likely the same brand of hope that plagues an addict’s family and friends. Nic will sob and beg his dad to pay for a rehab stint, and then escape from the facility right when he’s on the mend. We feel the disappointment of believing in someone who won’t — maybe even can’t — recover.

Sadly, Beautiful Boy could not be arriving at a better time. It feels as if the American public has been forced to grapple with the stark realities, and complexities, of addiction this year. There have been the reported overdoses of A-list celebrities like Demi Lovato and Mac Miller and the opioid crisis continues to hit new highs (in 2016, 66% of overdose deaths involved opioids). As Nic’s stellar performance in college shows us, while still doing meth, the prevailing stereotype of the “burnt out druggie” is not wholly accurate. It’s possible to be highly-functioning and successful, and have a hidden addiction.

Beautiful Boy is not the only film out right now illustrating the pain of addiction. A lot of A Star Is Born’s heart comes from Jackson’s (played by Bradley Cooper) battle with alcoholism. The film also shows how addiction is not a solitary struggle. One of the most heartbreaking moments comes when Ally (played by Lady Gaga) tries to pull a blacked out Jackson away from her father (who is trying shower Jackson after he’s urinated on himself). “It’s my job!” Ally yells out.

Ally’s sense of obligation to Jackson brings to mind the responsibility Nic’s family feels for “curing” Nic’s addiction (which a poster at a support meeting explicitly says they can’t do). At one point, Nic’s stepmother chases his car down a highway. The scene takes place after Nic breaks into the family’s home, steals, and then escapes. She’s trying to catch up to him, to help him. Eventually, she gives up — the only person who can help Nic is himself.

This article originally appeared on i-D US.