Rarely do two books equal one movie, but such is the math of “Beautiful Boy” starring Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet. It’s the story of one family’s battle with addiction, based on Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the memoir by journalist David Sheff, and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (Simon and Schuster), by his son, Nic Sheff, a first-person account of his descent into drugs.
Among the many tragedies of the tale is how close Nic came to having it all. A golden child of privilege, he grew up in a loving, financially secure family. But his parents are divorced, and by court-ordered custody arrangement, he spends school months with his father, stepmother and their two young children, and summer vacations with his mother and stepfather, at opposite ends of California.
Unknown to his family, Nic began smoking marijuana daily when he was 12. When he was 16, he spent three weeks in Paris to study French, where he began to drink to excess. By the time Nic was 18, he was stealing cash, food and liquor from home and disappearing for days. Soon, his family discovers he is a full-blown methamphetamine addict.
“I felt better than I ever had, so I just kept on doing it,” says Nic during a confrontation with his father.
As David Sheff struggles to understand how addiction is a treatable disease, the movie follows his struggles to save his son, from rehab to relapse to dangerous streets and back again. When Nic wakes up in a hospital, someone asks him what his problem is. “I’m an alcoholic and an addict,” Nic says. “No,” he’s told, “that’s how you’ve been treating your problem.”
Both Carell and Chalamet have been praised for their performances: Carell for his sensitive version of a desperate father, Chalamet for his immersion in personal hell. Already slim, he lost 20 pounds to portray a crystal meth addict. The film also stars Maura Tierney, Christian Convery, Oakley Bull and Amy Ryan.
Oscar predictions for Chalamet are already buzzing. Nominated for Best Actor for his performance in last year’s “Call Me By Your Name” (he lost to Gary Oldman’s Churchill in “Darkest Hour”), if he wins Best Supporting Actor next year, when he’s 23 years and 59 days old, he will be the second youngest male to do so. The record for youngest in that category has been held by Timothy Hutton who was 20 years and 227 days when he won in 1980 for “Ordinary People.”
Not only a heart-wrenching drama, the movie is also an attempt to explain the epidemic of addiction, and to provide help for those suffering from it, either addicts themselves, or the people who love them. Amazon Studio’s “Beautiful Boy” website has a page of addiction resources, in addition to theater locations showing the film. Recently, Chalamet and Nic Sheff, who got sober in his 20s, made several appearances around the country to promote the film and addiction awareness.
In a short film made by People magazine about “Beautiful Boy,” the movie, Chalamet says, “Addiction knows no class, no race, no boundaries and it’s a modern day crisis.”
“More people under 50 are dying from overdose than anything else, and we’re losing about 140 people a day,” comments David Sheff in the short film.
David Sheff’s book began as an article for New York Times Magazine titled “My Addicted Son” that won an award from the American Psychological Association for its contribution to understanding addiction. The response from readers who could relate was overwhelming.
“People are relieved to learn that they are not alone in their suffering, that they are part of something larger, in this case, a societal plague — an epidemic of children, an epidemic of families,” wrote Sheff in Beautiful Boy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
David Sheff’s books include Game Over, China Dawn, and All We Are Saying. His many articles and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Wired, Fortune, and elsewhere. His piece for the New York Times Magazine, My Addicted Son, won an award from the American Psychological Association for Outstanding Contribution to Advancing the Understanding of Addiction. It led to his #1 New York Times Best Seller, Beautiful Boy, which was named the best nonfiction book of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly. Beautiful Boy was also an Amazon Best Book of 2008. Sheff and his family live in Inverness, California.
Nic Sheff is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Still in his early twenties, he continues to fight daily battles with his addictions. His writing has been published in Newsweek, Nerve, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Tweak is his first book.