Beautiful Boy Parent Guide
A raw, searing tale of a young man's addiction and a family's love told with honesty and compassion.
Parent Movie Review
“It’s about my son,” David Sheff (Steve Carell) says at the beginning of Beautiful Boy. “There are moments that I look at him, this kid I raised and thought I knew inside out, and I wonder who he is.” We can understand David’s bewilderment. Nic is a gifted writer, a talented artist, and an engaging young man with seemingly limitless horizons. Then, Nic discovers drugs and everything changes.
Nic’s addictions are a nightmare for his entire family and particularly for David who throws himself into saving his son. He pays for rehab, he sends his son (who claims to be in recovery) to university, he flies across the country when Nic overdoses, he begs him to get help, he talks, he yells, he listens, he drives around all night looking for his missing son. Finally, as Nic disappears one more time and David is packing up to search for him, his wife (Maura Tierney) insists that looking is pointless because they have no idea where Nic is. “I don’t know how to help him!” the anguished father cries. “You can’t!” retorts his wife.
Viewers know that David can’t save Nic; they wonder if Nic wants to save himself. We watch with growing consternation as Nic smokes marijuana, drinks alcohol, takes ecstasy, gets hooked on meth, steals prescription drugs at a girlfriend’s house, drives while stoned, high, or drunk, and injects himself with heroin. We see his despair, regret, guilt, and self-loathing. His fragile recoveries and devastating relapses play out before our eyes. This film definitely does not glamorize drug use – its harrowing consequences are portrayed in graphic detail.
Obviously, substance abuse poses the biggest content issue in Beautiful Boy. On top of Nic’s drug use, there are two particularly disturbing moments. One occurs when a still functional Nic cajoles his father into sharing a “celebratory joint” with him and reminds him of his own youthful experiments with drugs. The second takes place when David, stretched to the limit by his son’s drug abuse, uses cocaine. Other content issues include profanity: there are approximately 42 swear words in the film, 31 of which are a sexual expletive. There is also a discreetly filmed sexual encounter which takes place between Nic and a young woman, both of whom are high on heroin.
As a cinematic experience, Beautiful Boy is somewhat uneven. Its greatest strength comes from the talent of its cast. Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet are flawless, ably conveying the joy of the good times, the despair of the dark ones, and the unbreakable bond between father and son. But the movie also has flaws: its pacing is uneven and often drags, the flashbacks sometimes feel disjointed, and the soundtrack can be annoying.
Despite these problems, Beautiful Boy remains an important film. Drug addiction takes a massive toll on individuals, families and societies. It is highly beneficial for a movie to realistically portray the raw reality of addiction as people destroy themselves and hurt those they love in pursuit of a fix. This movie also shifts the stereotype of addiction – Nic isn’t a celebrity, and he isn’t the tragic result of an abusive or neglectful childhood. He is the beloved child of a parent who took him surfing, sang songs with him in the car, read to him, and jokingly spoke Klingon with him in a restaurant. Beautiful Boy reminds all of us not to judge families that struggle with addiction but instead to respond with kindness and compassion.
That being said, the enduring power of family ties remains the strongest message of this film. When Nic is a disconsolate little boy, flying off to visit his mother (Amy Ryan), David gets down at eye level with him and says, “If you could take all the words in the language it still couldn’t describe what I feel for you. I love you more than everything.” “Everything,” repeats Nic. This becomes a ritual between the father and son. And this love is the immovable, starkly beautiful foundation of this film.Directed by Felix Van Groeningen. Starring Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, and Maura Tierney . Running time: 112 minutes. Theatrical release November 2, 2018. Updated November 9, 2018
Watch the trailer for Beautiful Boy
Rating & Content Info
Why is Beautiful Boy rated R? Beautiful Boy is rated R by the MPAA for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material
Violence: A young man steals from his little brother to buy drugs. A husband and wife shout at each other over a disagreement about drug treatment for their son. A young man breaks into his family’s home and steals from them to support his drug habit.
Sexual Content: A young man and woman kiss. A stoned young man and woman climb into a shower while fully clothed. They remove some of their clothing and have sex. The camera remains above their shoulders but it is clear what is happening.
Profanity: There are approximately 42 instances of profanity, of which 31 are sexual expletives and five are terms of deity. Profanity is used by parents as well as young people.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A young man raids the medicine cabinet at a house where he is a dinner guest and pops some pills. A stoned young man throws up in the ditch and at another time in the car. A teenager cajoles his father into sharing a joint with him. A college student goes online to research safer ways to inject drugs. He is shown preparing and injecting heroin on more than one occasion. He injects a young woman with heroine; she vomits. A young woman overdoses on heroin: her boyfriend does CPR and saves her. A young man overdoses for the second time (the first was alluded to; not shown) and almost dies. A young man drives while drunk. He also drives while high. A parent does cocaine. A young man drinks alcohol and smokes cigarettes.
Page last updated November 9, 2018
Beautiful Boy Parents' Guide
Do you have assumptions about addicts? Does Nic challenge those assumptions?
What causes addiction? Do you think it results from life circumstances? Do you think some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction?
Nic resists treatment for his addictions. Do you have friends or relatives who are in denial about their addictions? What can be done to help addicts receive help?
Addiction is enormously stressful for the families of addicts. What kinds of support are available in your community?
Related home video titles:
A Star is Born shows the devastating consequences of alcoholism, albeit with plenty of profanity and some sexual content. Walk the Line tells the tale of Johnny Cash’s rise to fame and battle with addiction. In 28 Days, Sandra Bullock plays a woman who goes into rehab to treat her alcoholism.