This is what love is and what love does too. Was thinking of this last night when I watched Beautiful Boy at the Directors Guild. I have a special place in my heart for movies about recovery. I am always curious as to how AA and Alanon meetings are depicted in films. And is the preceding drug addiction or alcoholism or family disease glamorized at all?
One new twist in this movie is that the father’s worry over one child seemed to rob him of love for his other children. The younger children are merely props. Growing up in a big family, we five children had a radar for this kind of fairness among children. Any Coudal child that was getting any special treatment — say, you wanted to stay home from school because you were sick? — the others would whine, “you’re not sick! you’re faking it?” (Ugh, I’m sickened by the immature insult of calling someone or some news outlet ‘fake.’)
This is also the dance of addiction. “You’re not sick! You’re making poor choices!” The movie is a bit slim on the discussion of addiction and alcoholism as a disease; maybe that’s because we already know this, perhaps it is assumed. The film’s not preachy.
There’s some tough love in the movie too, which is new for movies about addiction. Steve Carrell, who plays the father, is stoic. I would like to see more chinks in his armor. He seems out of control only once — in the time-worn, film-weary trope of throwing his phone to show his anger. At least in this movie, he asks his wife to call his phone so he can find it. I could’ve used more ragged emotion from Carrell. But that’s me — I relate more to imperfect, sensitive people than walled-off, guarded father figures.
What the movie gets right, on so many levels, is that the disease of addiction is conjoined with mental illness. This actor who plays Nic, Timothee Chalamet, is perfect — so lovable, one moment, and monstrous the next. Is his brief, drug-induced ecstasy worth the pain, torture, heartache he causes himself and his loved ones? Again, he is in throes of addiction so naturally, the cause and effect of his illness are not forefront on his mind.
This movie does bring to light the scourge of drug addiction in this country. Starkly, at the end of the movie, this fact appeared: Overdoses now are the leading cause of death of Americans under 50. Wow! Sobering.
There’s another theme found in the movie, which I love — the depiction of a writer’s life. In many films, you get the feeling that being a writer means you sit for about two minutes staring at a computer screen, maybe you wad up some paper — throw the wad, oh dang, it misses the waste basket — and then hooray! we see our hapless writer hero on their book tour. But the hours of research, loneliness, procrastination? Not so much. I liked that this movie depicts a writer’s life somewhat realistically as the solitary life of an artist — much like the life of a visual artist. In this film, Maura Tierney plays the artist Karen Barbour, the stepmom of Nic, who, too, is plumbing the depths through her visual art. Sitting alone. Which is what I’m doing right now.
Just a last thought and perhaps a feminist take on this movie, now that I’ve mentioned Nic’s stepmother, I’m wondering if this movie would’ve been made if the caring parent of a teenager in need of recovery was a female writer. I think we tend to glorify fathers and husbands (and male writers) in our Hollywood films, but from my true life experience, from what I’ve seen: most caregivers, at least among spouses with Parkinson’s Disease, are female.
It could be part of the novelty and romanticism of Beautiful Boy, in that it is the father is the parent depicted as the consistent, caring one. In real life, I’ve found, more women are primary caregivers for physically and mentally ill family members. But they rarely have movies made about them.
I’ve written about other movies on addiction: Great movies about alcoholics and mental illness: Great movies about mental illness.