“ Beautiful Boy”

A family split apart by drugs is not fun to watch, but this is a film that should be seen for its empathetic value.. In 2017, over 10,000 lives were lost in the United States due to crystal meth use. This film does not show most of the grungy side effects, but it does provide facts on brain neural function decline while skipping the rotting teeth. Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen has just the right objectivity to frame the true story of the dynamics of a family in pain without shocking us with ravaged bodies.

Based on the memoirs of San Francisco journalist David Sheff, “Beautiful Boy” begins with the father seeking help in understanding what this drug is doing to his son. Steve Carell tries to be stoic as he asks a drug counselor ( Tim Hutton) what he can do to help his son, Nic. ( Timothee Chalamet). Through a series of flashbacks, the film gives us a history of fatherly love of the unconditional sort.

Sweet episodes of Carell singing John Lennon’s “ Beautiful Boy” to his own son at age four mesh into memories of father /son surfing, biking, and sharing experiences. They talk. They hug.

Events have not been perfect. There has been divorce and two siblings,ten years younger, vie for parental attention. Stepmother Karen, played beautifully by Amy Ryan, supports her husband and loves her stepson. Tension arises while protecting their younger children. Her artist easels and canvases eventually are crammed into Nic’s room which make him feel pushed out. When a druggy girlfriend and Nic break into the house, Karen chases them but gives up in a puddle of fraught sobs.

Chalamet’s interplay with his young siblings is some of the most affecting. When the six-year-old asks if Nic is on drugs again, we wince. The family turning lights on and off has symbolic meaning. Like all drug addictions, this is a roller-coaster ride of hospital calls, disappearances,in-house treatment centers, and relapses and recoveries. Nic sees the hopelessness in the process. When David mimicks his counselor’s bromide that “ relapse is part of the process of recovery”, Nic chides in with “ Dad, that’s like saying crashing is part of piloting!”

The editing of the first part of “Beautiful Boy” is perfectly nuanced, but then it is as if the editing team went on vacation. Signs of depression, isolation, heavy metal music, experimentation, and fear and anxiety of high expectations are touched upon. Hedonic excuses of “I felt better than I ever have” sink into more lies and hiding. “Taking the edge off stupid reality” has its draw backs in rainy searches, group sessions, internet tutorials on injecting safely, and dark poetry, and wild handwriting.

When Carell begins lunching with users to learn more of what his son is experiencing, we know he is going to snort to feel his son’s euphoria. Monsters are back two-fold. The young children, Daisy and Jasper, are the only ones who don’t seem to know of the single digit success rate for meth addicts. Nic’s biological mother, Vicky( Maura Tierney) gives her best, as does Nic’s AA sponsor, Spenser.

I have warned my three friends who have been through this ordeal not to see this film alone. Seeing a family from the rear view mirror is just too much. The pee specimens, the morgue visits, the vomit are dirges enough. When Nic says “ I am addicted to craziness. You are embarrassed. Mom should have gotten custody. You try to control everything”, the audience sighs. And when Carell says, “ I trust you, but we need proof” as he hands Chalamet the pee jar, we acutely understand Nic’s wry comment: “ That’s about as contradictory as it gets.” The film’s ending leaves us feeling the same way.

An endnote:
Film viewers, you will miss the tone of this memoir if you leave before the poem by Charles Bukowski, “ Let It Enfold” is recited by Nic. If you jump up and walk out, you have lost.

“Call Me by Your Name”

Director Luca Guadagnino has given us a sensual ode to first love. While we all can identify with those feelings of being completely enveloped in another, “Call Me By Your Name” is a gay film. The screenplay by James Ivory is based on a novel by Andre Aciman. Greek statuary and Whitman’s body electric are on full display. Lovely Northern Italian scenes of fountains, orchards, and riversides mesh with stonewalled villas and alfresco dining. The handsome Armi Hammer is Oliver, 24 , brilliant, confident, and charming. An American doctoral student ready for a six-week stint helping an archeology professor ( Michael Stuhlbarg ) and father to seventeen year-old, Elio. ( Timothee Chalamet)  We know what the circumstances will ignite, but it will be a slow, romantic smolder. This is a film with no gender boundaries in love.

Timothee Chalamet is amazing as the young virtuoso pianist, who is both embarrassed and controlled by his gonads. This is a coming-of-age film and a celebration of the joy two people can feel when they appreciate and understand each other. At the same time, when Elio puts Oliver’s bathing trunks over his head and breathes deeply, we laugh at his impetuosity. Chalamet was also the love interest in the film “Lady Bird” . His easy change from  sophisticate  to innocent is fun to compare.

The themes of  pain and joy in total intimacy and their  obsession reminds me of Scott Spencer’s  novel “ Endless Love”. It may not be healthy, but it is romantic. Scenes where Elio places his matching Star of David necklace on his own body are as sweet as the juicy peach scene. The staring into the fire ending will melt your heart.

Armi Hammer is an Adonis who can not dance, but glows in Elio’s rapture. As Oliver, his  flirtatiousness and self-restraint are attractive end marks in his personality. We smile at his easy American nonchalance, even his chambray shirt. We know he cares deeply. All this is entwined with academic discussions on Brunel’s cinema, 17th c. German romance readings, and glorious pond swims in freezing alpine drifts.

Elio’s father’ s reaching-out speech elevates Elio’s suffering  and experience, though it made me a tad sad for Mr. and Mrs. Perlman’s marriage. Somehow, after viewing this film, the title made consummate sense. “Call Me By Your Name” or taking on your lover’s name personifies oneness here. It is a lovely film about human connection. Life tells me there will be a sequel, and that some many re-visit “ The Cosmic Fragments of Heraclitus” and the art and thought of other pre-Socratic philosophers.