In ‘Beautiful Boy’ a father tells the ugly truth about drug addiction and the son he saved from certain death

Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet star as the father and son in a moving new film, which is in UAE cinemas now

Timoth��e Chalamet and Steve Carell star in BEAUTIFUL BOY. Courtesy of Amazon Studios
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A real-life, father-and-son story about the pain and trauma of drug addictionBeautiful Boy – is that rare thing: a movie adapted from not one, but two books, one written by the father and one written by the son. Although journalist David Sheff's Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction is an agonising rumination on how drugs almost tore his family apart, Nic Sheff's Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines is a more immediate account of his life on the streets as an addict.

Put them together and you have some remarkable source material. "The hardest work was just boiling it down," says Felix van Groeningen who directed 2012 romantic melodrama The Broken Circle Breakdown. The Belgian director is responsible for bringing Beautiful Boy to the screen and wisely worked with Australian writer Luke Davies, who previously scripted addiction story Candy starring Heath Ledger. "He speaks from experience. He was a recovering addict," says van Groeningen.  

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 26:  Author David Sheff and son Nic Sheff  appear in a New York City Starbucks store kicking off a nine-city Starbucks tour promoting his new memoir "Beautiful Boy" on February 26, 2008 in New York CIty  (Photo by Shawn Ehlers/WireImage/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption ***
David Sheff and son Nic Sheff. Photo: Getty

Another great match was bringing in Steve Carell to play David and Timothee Chalamet, the rising star from Call Me By Your Name, as Nic. Carell responded immediately to the script, which makes it clear that the meth epidemic blighting the United States and beyond is an escalating problem.

“It’s such a tragedy,” says Carell. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this. It’s such a national and international tragedy, and emergency, and I think very relevant right now.”

Although van Groeningen cast Chalamet long before Call Me By Your Name won him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, it was Carell's performance in 2015's The Big Short that convinced the director he was the right choice to play David. "He has that incredible combination of being super-precise and an actor who can really be full of life." Van Groeningen also watched a lot of interviews with Carell to get a feel for who he is in real life. "He's a very earnest and warm and sincere person," he adds, traits that were perfect to play David.

For Carell, the source material for Beautiful Boy was invaluable. "I think both of these books were honest and revealed a lot about what the two were going through," he says. "David told me that he hadn't read Nic's book until much, much later, and when he did it was horrifying.

"Even after all that time, he had no idea how bad things were with his son." Although Nic even stole from his own family to feed his addiction, his experiences away from his father were "even worse than he'd imagined".

Timothée Chalamet as Nic Sheff and Steve Carell as David Scheff star in BEAUTIFUL BOY. Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Timothée Chalamet as Nic Sheff and Steve Carell as David Scheff in Beautiful Boy. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

While it's easy to imagine a Hollywood production turning the Sheffs' story into a hackneyed movie of the week, van Groeningen was keen to tell the story authentically. He visited David frequently, spending time at his family home in Inverness, California. He also met Nic and stepsister Daisy, and when he was living in Los Angeles during the editing phase, their friendship blossomed "organically". "I started surfing with Nick and Daisy, who is now 22, and they became really good friends [of mine]."

As the film explains, Nic is now eight years sober – which, given the nature of his addiction, is miraculous. "Yeah, it is a miracle," nods Carell. "Especially with a drug like that, that anyone comes out the other side." As van Groeningen adds, when Nic saw the film, he simply felt gratitude for his family sticking by him and to still be alive. Now he and his father are able to pass on their experiences.

“That’s why they wrote their books, to share and try and help other people.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 13:  (L-R) Steve Carell, David Sheff, Timothee Chalamet and Nic Sheff attend the UK Premiere of "Beautiful Boy"
Steve Carell, David Sheff, Timothee Chalamet and Nic Sheff at the film's UK premiere

Beautiful Boy is in cinemas across the UAE