Following his already iconic turn in Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet can now star in any movie and gay men will camp outside of their local cinema regardless, peach in hand. His latest film, Beautiful Boy, explores the dangers of addiction from the perspectives of both father and son, yet the title Boy Erased might be more accurate given how this adaptation deliberately avoids the queer moments that can be found in the books upon which it’s based.
Combining Nic Sheff’s memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, with his father’s book, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, the film chronicles the devastating effect that crystal meth had on Nic’s life. Throughout, David Sheff tries to provide his son with the help and support that he needs, but rehab doesn’t work for long and Nic relapses more than once.
Steve Carell impresses as David in one of his most award-friendly “serious” roles yet, but it’s the beautiful boy himself who unsurprisingly steals the show here, delving into the darkness of addiction without ever exaggerating the part or resorting to stereotypes. As Elio, Chalamet grew more comfortable in his own skin by learning to accept his feelings for Oliver, but here, Nic strives to reject his body, using drugs to numb his physical and mental existence.
Vice claims that “Beautiful Boy doesn’t hide the ugliest parts of addiction” and sure, Nic is sometimes portrayed in a poor light, particularly when he steals money from his younger brother or encourages his girlfriend to experiment with narcotics. However, the darkest moments that Nic endured are noticeably absent, even though they’re written in black and white in the pages of his memoir.
In real life, Nic almost lost his arm after an infected needle puncture grew to a grotesque size and suicidal thoughts were a huge part of his story, too. To satiate his cravings, Nic would also sell his body to other men for sex, even though he identifies as straight. It wasn’t just about the money, though.
Writing for The Fix, Nic has since revealed that what he wanted most of all was just “to feel beautiful.” Even though he could have found other ways to fund his drug problem, he “wanted to feel wanted.” According to Nic, men seemed to like him more than women, so that’s why he ended up sleeping with men for money.
After the first book was completed and ready for publication, the family members who read it all felt that Nic should leave the hustling out completely. Why was it more acceptable for Nic to write about stealing from his family or injecting lethal drugs into his body? Whether this was some kind of homophobia or simply reflects society’s often prejudiced attitude towards sex work, it’s a sentiment that the filmmakers clearly shared while adapting his work.
By their very nature, movie adaptations of real-life events can never tell the whole story and sometimes, taking such a comprehensive approach can dilute the impact of the film. However, is there much point exploring addiction if you’re not going to reveal the darkest places that it can take people? In particular, the decision to avoid the queer aspects of Nic’s story entirely is also worrying given the general erasure that LGBTQ people still suffer in the mainstream.
Beautiful Boy has already become the best opener yet for Amazon Studios, and the pink dollar must be responsible for this at least in part, yet Felix Van Groeningen’s movie still actively avoids queer sentiment.
This isn’t the only problem that Beautiful Boy faces,though. By focusing almost solely on the relationship shared between Nic and his father, the female characters are often short-changed and this narrow representation of addiction fails to account for those who don’t receive the same chances that Nic did.
Last year, a record 72,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, making Nic’s story an especially pressing one. It’s just a shame that this mostly authentic account of addiction would rather dilute its message to make a bid for mainstream and perhaps even award success, rather than tell the whole, not so beautiful story.
Beautiful Boy is out in cinemas right now in limited release.