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Beautiful Boy is difficult to watch. It hurts on many levels. Based on the dual memoirs of David Sheff and his son, Nic, the film despairs that a drug addict can ever kick his habit. Nic gets clean for a while, but again and again chooses to shoot up with crystal meth. As surely as highs crash, so too recoveries collapse, the film seems to say.
Many former users might disagree, but Christians can respect the Sheffs’ perspective. The Bible teaches that our battle with the flesh lasts a lifetime. Eventually victorious or not, for many nonbelieving and believing viewers, Beautiful Boy tells their story. Drug addiction is rampant, and families like the Sheffs suffer for one person’s choices. The film ends with the mind-blowing statistic that drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.
Parents will agonize with David (Steve Carell). Flashbacks show his tight bond with Nic (Timothée Chalamet): They surfed together and shared a gift for writing.
“I love you more than everything,” David tells his son.
“Everything,” Nic responds. Still, Nic says he needs to “fill this big black hole in me.” What created this hole? His parents’ divorce? The family’s affluence? Their apparent indifference toward God?
With David its real focus, the superbly acted film could be titled “Faithful Father.” David is far from perfect; he smoked pot a few times with teenage Nic before he knew his son was addicted. (The film’s R rating is for drug content, language, and brief sexual material.) But he pursues his son relentlessly. Countless times he drives the streets searching, then lifting his beautiful, broken boy out of trash-strewn alleys into his car.
But the film doesn’t search beyond the temporal, and that’s what makes it so painful to watch. If humans are merely the sum of chemical processes, why not tweak (i.e., use crystal meth), drug, and be merry? Perhaps, though, David’s inscrutable love for his son points to a heavenly Father who’s full of compassion for His broken children.