My favorite thing about watching this movie at the Angelika Film Center is that actor Rupert Everett came in and sat right in front of us. So, I went from looking at the screen, to looking at him; or, the back of his head. He was there to promote his movie The Happy Prince, but he probably figured…why sit through that, when I’ve seen it lots of times?
This film is based on the best selling book by David Sheff, as well as the book his son Nic wrote (spoiler alert: the kid doesn’t die after consuming all these drugs). So the story is told from both their perspectives, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the movie Being Flynn that did that (despite this getting much better reviews). Being Flynn is based on the book Another Bullsh** Night in Suck City and is told in the voice of the father (Robert De Niro) who is a failed novelist, and the son (who becomes an accomplished writer and poet, played by Paul Dano).
Director Felix Van Groeningen, despite combining the two books, made it like a straightforward film. In fact, that’s part of the problem. It’s a lot like every other movie we’ve seen about teen addiction. You’ll get the lying, the stealing, the bad behavior, etc. What makes this a step above is the fact that Timothee Chalamet (Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name) is so darn good. It’s the type of performance that Academy voters like to reward with a nomination (that actually deserves the nomination). There is one scene where dad David (Steve Carell), is meeting his son for lunch, knowing that he’s probably addicted to drugs and trying to make the best of it. The way Nic tries to talk normally, while asking for money…and slowly gets angrier knowing he’s not going to be given any money — wow!
A few things that some might have problems with. The drug addiction never got as disgusting as you’ve seen in previous films. Sure, we see a track-marked arm from heroin needles. And there’s a time he passes out on a dirty bathroom floor. Yet we’ve seen much worse in other movies, and that almost makes it feel like his addiction isn’t as bad. Heck, in one scene he meets a pretty girl he used to know, tells her he wants to party, and they go get some smack. They shoot it up, and with euphoric looks on their face, have sex in the shower.
Other people might be bothered by the fact that this kid probably was able to pull himself out of the depths of addiction because he had a family with money (they pay a pretty penny for a rehab clinic), not to mention the fact that they were rather loving. Now, that aspect of it made the movie a bit more interesting to me. This is a kid that had every opportunity to succeed, and he was obviously smart. Yet once he got addicted, his entire life went south.
I overheard one critic say that it was distracting to see Amy Ryan playing Nic’s mom, since she played a character that dated Carell in The Office (I was bothered more by the fact that when Carell screams it sounds like that character). But hey…any time you can get Amy Ryan in a movie, you should. I guess I get distracted more by other things. The fact that I heard Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, when they played that in Carell’s movie last year — Last Flag Flying (and if you’re going Neil Young, why not the more appropriate “The Needle and the Damage Done”?). It bothered me to hear the dad sing Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy,” because it reminded me of how much better it was when Richard Dreyfuss sang it to his deaf son in Mr. Holland’s Opus.
The soundtrack had a few other misfires, but it mostly worked. It was great to hear Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren,” Bowie’s “Sound and Vision,” Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings,” and John Coltrane played during the dad’s drug trip, which, was a really stupid thing for the father to have done. He buys some meth because he wants to try to understand what his son is experiencing. Uh…wasn’t all of your Googling enough, as well as talking to a doctor (Timothy Hutton in a small part)? Speaking of small parts, Laura Tierney is an actress I love (go find her movie Diggers), but she wasn’t given a lot to do. She mostly stands around pouting, or watching how her husband deals with his drug-addled son.
The flashbacks were surprisingly powerful. When we watch father and son, at various ages, it’s just heartbreaking. How can you not feel for a father reminiscing about how at one time…his kid had fun playing on the beach, painting, drawing, and getting sad when he’s flying to see his mom for the summer. And seeing those flashbacks make it more powerful to see his current wife getting angry at him for not accepting the type of person his son has become, and makes us understand why it’s so hard for him to do that. It’s also the fact that the times that Nic does clean up, we see how great he is with his half-siblings. So we know, just as dad knows, there’s a good person lurking inside that guy that’s jonesing for his next fix.
The problem this movie has is that we’ve been down this path before. For example, when Nic has finally been clean and sober for a long stretch, we know there’s another binge coming because the movie is only half-way through. You just start getting tired of Nic and the fact that he can’t get his sh** together. Sure, that’s probably the frustration the filmmakers want us to feel, but…that doesn’t make it the most enjoyable time at the movies. It just starts getting repetitive, as well as manipulative and formulaic. There were also poor editing choices that took away some of the emotional toll this story could’ve had.
With Marvel movies, people always tell you to stay for those extra scenes in the closing credits. With this movie, they did an interesting and rather powerful thing. As the credits roll, we hear Nic read the Charles Bukowski poem Let it Enfold You. There was a brief scene when he’s in college and he reads an excerpt of it and that helps him get a girl who’s intrigued. Hearing the powerful poem in its entirety at the end of the film, was a brilliant move.
2 ½ stars out of 5.
(music fun fact: Look for the talented Justin Townes Earle as a wedding guest).