Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What Else Could I Write I Don't Have the Right

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There's a bit of well pedigreed After School Special aroma to Beautiful Boy, director Felix Van Groeningen's new addiction drama starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as father and son battling the latter's drug demons - everything feels like the polished surface of a rehab center; you can hear the muzak, you can smell the disinfectant. Hell, you can huff the disinfectant. 

The film is, even in its grungiest moments - and this is an early 90s story so Grunge is the word - a little too antiseptic; you never get the feeling it might truly rotate off its own axis and get you a little high on its own supply. It is, dangerously, dead serious and respectable. Kind, generous, good-hearted. How can anything like that get really root out drug addiction, with its at least early on promises of delicious disrespectability?

Timothée certainly tries, and he's never anything less than entirely and always genuine here - he remains a fierce talent. He imbues this boy, less beautiful by the day, with a slack eel quality, only buzzed to life by the prodding of external substances, and only then for the briefest and ever more desperately fleeting of moments. But the film seems intent on staying on the outside looking in - this is more the father's story than the son's, and so the allure, the draw of self-destruction, remains frustratingly opaque, just out of reach.

Perhaps that's purposeful - it is no doubt the lived experience of this father as an outsider unable to understand his son's impulses. There's a whole scene exactly about that. And it goes at the question of whether it's a film's job to just represent something, an experience, or to really sniff around and try to explain that experience - give us some answers, some emotional clarity. Show us the fishmonger, or taste us the fish. I wager it's a little of both, but the balance has to work. Beautiful Boy is just a little off, enough to notice.
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