“Beautiful Boy” delivers predictable Oscar bait

“Beautiful Boy” has split critics, with some praising the performances from well-liked actors and others coming down hard on the predicable plot. WSS critic Harry Westergaard ‘19 sides with the latter.


Rain Richards

David Scheff (Steve Carell) carries his teenage son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) home after an overdose.

With awards season on the horizon, it’s time for the serious, Oscar bait dramas to start cropping up in cinemas. “Beautiful Boy” is an example of such a film and combines two distinct genres that are hard to get right, but juicy for awards season. On one hand, it’s the trite father-son drama, with intense performances from both parties that portrays the complexities of such a relationship. Both of them will figure out that they are in hard places at life, and find common ground there. This type of film is overdone and formulaic. The second genre the film tries its hand at is the addict genre, less overtly Oscar bait-y, but easy to get a “transformation” role out of. The actors will go to great lengths and put themselves into that addict role and become grotesque.

Though these formulas are both difficult to nail for various reasons, combining them could yield interesting results. However, if you couldn’t gather it from my flippant tone in the previous paragraph, “Beautiful Boy,” doesn’t quite do anything new with either genre. So the movie rests on the quality of the performances from lead actors Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. The results are mixed.

Maura Tierney and Steve Carell stare moodily off into the distance. ~Amazon Studios

On the one hand, you have Carell. Going into the film, his performance was the one I was excited for. I always love when notoriously goofy comedians are able to surprise you with a prowess for dramatic roles. I was expecting Carell to really blow me away in this film… He was okay. It’s not all bad. There are certainly some scenes where it works, where he emotes real pain just by his looks or body position. He can be slumped over, disheveled, with a real hangdog expression on his face that makes you sad just looking at it. There’s a bit near the end of the film where he cries, letting out all of his feelings that have been building up over the film. It’s heart-shattering.

But in some of the really dramatic scenes with his son, he falls flat, particularly when they are arguing with one another. When Carell is acting angry, it just seems like he’s reading straight from the script and shouting it, rather than actually putting himself into the role. There seems to be some distance between himself and the role. He’s not all bad as I stated; he just isn’t completely effective as a dramatic actor.

Timothée Chalamet, on the other hand, is fairly effective as the drug addict son, definitely the stronger performance of the two. What impressed me the most about his performance was his ability to set apart the pre-addict scenes from the addict scenes. In the latter, he uses little ticks in his hands, inability to sequence sentences and an overall nervous demeanor to portray his character crumbling under the pull of the hard drugs he’s on. Though it isn’t a transcendent performance (it’s strong but it doesn’t quite save the movie) it is sufficient evidence that Chalamet is more than an arthouse heartthrob. Hopefully, he takes more daring roles like this in the future.

Timothee Chalamet in “Beautiful Boy.” ~Amazon Studios

Another major problem with the film is the pacing. The movie is incredibly slow, and despite its relatively short running time, it seems to go on forever. The constant flashbacks don’t help, distracting from the current timeline and sometimes even causing confusion at first as to whether or not it even is a flashback due to Steve Carell’s lack of de-aging. The other big problem is the “relapse” trope that comes with the addict story. The movie is already slow, but because the main character has to lapse back into drugs multiple times it feels even longer. At one point, the film invests a lot of time and energy into setting itself up for a happy ending that is ultimately a big put on. As the viewer, I found myself sighing at the realization that an extra half hour at least was likely to follow.

Other nitpicks include the script, which is extremely predictable most of the time. It sounds very written as if they are delivering something that’s trying to be “deep” or “Oscar-worthy.” Other times it’s just plain stupid.

The editing is also problematic. I already stated that some of the flashbacks are jarring at first because there isn’t proper indication that it even is a flashback. But a bigger problem is the sound, particularly with the soundtrack. The score itself isn’t bad, but songs are constantly blared over the soundtrack in moments when it would have worked much better to have the silence.

In summation, “Beautiful Boy” falls flat in many ways. While the lead performances aren’t terrible, the rest of the film fails to transcendent predictable plot twists and didn’t really engage me as a viewer. At less than two hours, it felt like almost three. Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet have both done markedly better movies. If you are coming to the film on the basis of either of the actors, this one can be a skip.