The film “Beautiful Boy,” which was recently screened at the 54th Chicago International Film Festival, is such a heartbreaking account of a true story that hit a celebrated magazine journalist David Sheff and his son head on. Nic is a young college age student who becomes hooked on meth and along the way uses every drug imaginable. Steve Carell plays David Sheff, Timothee Chalamet plays Nic Sheff and Maura Tierney plays Karen, Nic’s stepmother.
It immediately struck me about the disparities around drug abuse treatment options that are available to young white men, as opposed to young Black men. With no hesitation, David pulls out a credit card to pay for his son’s first stint in rehab. Nic even enrolls in college but soon after drops out and returns home. He is never too far away from drugs. On the other hand, a Black family may not have had much disposable income to seek treatment; and certainly the brother wouldn’t have been able to attend college.
“Beautiful Boy” shows all the pain and struggles associated with drug addiction. The son is lying and denying the depths of his usage, and the father has hope that he can help him—until he finally realizes that this struggle is not his but his son’s.
It is to be noted, also, that father and son would occasionally enjoy a joint together. This could have been the thing that just opened the floodgates to wider and more dangerous drug use. Nic would share that he kept trying to get higher and higher and that he began to think that always being in a high state was better than when he was sober. He knew that he was sinking deeper and deeper, but he was helpless and unwilling to stop using. In the end, it took Nic eight years to finally stay clean—after many stints in rehab. In real life, both father and son wrote books about their experiences.
“Beautiful Boy” is a tough film to watch, especially for those families affected by drug addiction. Nic’s actions tear at his immediate family’s peaceful existence, as well as his mother who lives in another town. I guess with so much emphasis being placed on the opioid crisis, it is a timely film. It lays bare the transformation of a “sweet high school graduate” to a full blown, vein-popping junkie. The road to sobriety is not easy, but it’s the only choice if one hopes to survive. “Beautiful Boy” also stars versatile actor Andre Royo as Nic’s sobriety coach and Lisa Gay Hamilton as a grieving mother who has lost a child to drugs.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the award-winning Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.”