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Movie review: Beautiful Boy

Movie review: Beautiful Boy

Movie review: Beautiful Boy

1 November 2018

Maura Tierney as Karen Barbour and Steve Carell as David Scheff star in Beautiful Boy.

By Mark Hadley

Beautiful Boy is based on the true story of David and Nic Sheff, chronicling David’s horror as he watches his son’s descent into long-term drug addiction.

Steve Carell delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the father who becomes steadily aware that his son’s “recreational” drug use has taken on sinister tones. What began as the occasional use of marijuana in high school, advances to speed and cocaine, and finally graduates to methamphetamine.

Nic’s actions lead to homelessness, crime, and recriminations that shatter his family’s life. Simply allocating him the blame, though, would be too simplistic. The question of responsibility for drug addiction concerns Beautiful Boy as much as it concerns society today.

Nic is the child of a broken home. His mother and father separated, and David chose to begin a new family. His mother Vicky is also distant, busy with her life in Los Angeles.

Though his father regularly assures Nic that he loves him, “more than everything!”, there is a fragility to the boy’s character from this point onwards. Society, too, has had a hand in what unfolds.

Nic is lauded as a child with such promise, but his world is filled with a mundanity he finds hard to bear. Nic eventually tells a room full of students, drugs became the answer to a growing feeling that he was “missing” something essential.

In the memoir on which the film is based, the real David Sheff shares how he attended many therapy sessions, and was continually told to remember the “Three Cs” when it came to dealing with his son’s addiction: You didn’t cause it; You can’t control it; You can’t cure it.

Sheff writes that he had a difficult time accepting these statements and could ultimately only agree with the last two.

In this, he reflects the hard truth offered by the Bible. We are not responsible for the choices our children might make, nor can we stop them choosing the wrong way. However, that is not the same as saying we bear no responsibility for their fate. Our lives are inextricably linked.

Consequently, God requires mothers and fathers to do more than love and provide for their children. They are to set the moral direction for their lives by living lives that lead them to God: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Beautiful Boy longs for a sure and certain hope – a solution to a heart-rending problem that seems beyond our best resources. Yet God calls on us to bring our children to him because he knows that without him, they will fall prey to the ravages of cruel idols.

Beautiful Boy is a hard watch, but it presents truths every parent would do well to learn. To begin with, it doesn’t anaesthetise the problem with an idealised Hollywood ending. There is no “graduation moment” where Nic can throw his hat in the air and say, “Drug free!”

Both David and Nic have to come to terms with the fact that addiction has an iron grip on his life that will never truly be released. Neither are the shards of shattered relationships neatly reassembled; life must go on in spite of the many jagged edges Nic’s addiction has created.

However, David has a chance to model to Nic what enduring love looks like. Not “unconditional” love, that takes no account of what he has done, but the God-like love that says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”.



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