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But How Gay is ‘Beautiful Boy’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Beautiful Boy? In 2008, writer David Sheff wrote a memoir titled Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. If you guessed that Beautiful Boy is an adaptation of that memoir, one that deals with a father’s journey through his son’s addiction: congratulations! Full marks for you.

David’s son is Nic, a sensitive boy who falls victim to addiction. His primary vice is crystal meth — at least, the scariest one to David — and rehab doesn’t help him. Real life is a bit of a spoiler, as Nic is alive and writing (the movie is also adapted from his memoir Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines), but Beautiful Boy gets deep on how touch-and-go Nic’s life was for years.

Who’s in it? Steve Carell plays David, mostly a whirlwind of bluster and concern over his son. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic, while Maura Tierney gets some of the best, most subtle material as Nic’s stepmom Karen. Oscar nominee Amy Ryan plays David’s ex-wife and Nic’s mother, Vicki. That said, this is basically a two-man show between Carell and Chalamet.

Why should I see it? Well, uh, if you’re interested in the story, I’d say it’s worth checking out. Maybe? Hoo boy, this one didn’t work for me. I hesitate to be too critical of a real life story, especially one this painful, but director Felix Van Groeningen and Luke Davies’ script has no discernible arc. Things happen in the order that they happened … except when the movie suddenly decides to flashback or flash-forward for no discernible reason.

Watching Beautiful Boy is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle using pieces from three different puzzles. You’re never going to get a satisfying solution.

But how gay is it? Other than the presence of Call Me By Your Name star Chalamet, it isn’t. If you’re thinking it is, you’re probably thinking of similarly named film Boy Erased, out later this year.

How does Chalamet’s performance compare to his work in Call Me By Your Name? I hate to say this, because I do think Chalamet is massively talented, but his performance suffers from vague direction here. He has good moments and scenes, but there’s not enough of a well-written character patching them together. Beautiful Boy filters so much of its idea of Nic through David’s eyes that the character gets lost. That Chalamet’s performance is effective at all is entirely a credit to him.

Does he stand a chance at the Oscars? Potentially! He’s got heat after Call Me By Your Name, and is competing in the supporting actor category. I’d guess he’s the film’s sole nomination if he gets in.

How does this movie’s treatment of addiction compare to that in A Star Is Born? Oh, it’s not even comparable. A Star Is Born uses addiction to inform and underline another story; in Beautiful Boy, addiction is the story. That’s it. We learn again and again how destructive addiction is, and we believe it! But there has to be something else after that. A Star Is Born gets that. Beautiful Boy is stuck running in circles.

Beautiful Boy is in theaters now.


Kevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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