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Beautiful Boy

He turned his back and walked away.
Saying: “Little miss, you’ll rue the day.
“You’ll rue the day that you were born.
“For givin’ me the devil ‘cos I wouldn’t hoe corn.”

Alison Krauss & Union Station

With the “Broken Circle Breakdown,” we saw a rare glimpse of a director (Felix Van Groeningen) able to weave together the remarkable essence of narrative and sound (see this years Blaze for a similar talent) unseen in most American productions. An able filmmaker with a film packed with emotional intelligence and resonance that makes searching for good films worth the process. So with his recent film, Beautiful Boy, we expected the same and find instead a step down from the competence of Van Groeningen’s earlier works into what feels like a pet project driven by commercial necessity and the fingerprints of Hollywood’s profit-making schemes ruining the art form. We see a film no doubt packed with emotional prowess, but largely held together by the dynamic performances of two A-list celebrities and the pre-packaged pull of familial struggles that most audiences will automatically resonate with. As James Berardinelli (REEL VIEWS) rightly notes: “[w]hatever faults Beautiful Boy has, acting isn’t among them.”

For what Felix wanted to accomplish, the film was paced well, despite its inability to deliver on the product one would expect from the story to tell. Without the repetitive tedium and the scattered time symmetry, the audience would not be fully immersed in the end. It had moments of deep sadness in the plight of a father’s frustration to restore the semblance of his son’s former years, exuding talents untold. As David Sims (THE ATLANTIC) rightly notes, “a story about how the bastions of privilege and stability can be rendered inert by the blunt-force power of drug abuse.” An important film to tell, but it must be told with the gravity and harshness demanded of the subject instead of the use of low resolution gimmicks.

The dynamic between the actors was moving: a rare film (although Last Flag Flying had the same idea) that focuses on the relationship of a father and his son through the lens of sensitivity and compassion instead of the hypermasculinity that pervades the torrents of our sports obsessed culture.

The films main problem, as noted by many critics,  is that it indulges in a false marketing of the perils of addiction using clean-cut images and beautifully designed sets that makes A Requiem for a Dream feels like the first reports from Buchenwald. As Josephine Livingstone (THE NEW REPUBLIC) writes: “[h]omelessness isn’t Timothée Chalamet draped handsomely across a diner; it’s contemptuous glances and shame.” The music attempts to materialize the essence of the addiction, but none of the artistry or cinematography lends support to the propped up promo film deviating in areas where the music is simply to melodramatic and superficial to be effective. (Von Groeningen is no Paolo Sorrentino).

A film that finds pockets of brilliant artistry with a fine cast of sound devices (especially that Gorecki Symphony) that at times remain dishonest with the antecedent mood of the project. A film that needed to dig into the darkness of addiction more to escape the superficial gloss it presented.

RATING: C+

 

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