Beautiful Boy, a father’s story of his son’s drug addiction, is now streaming on Amazon Prime. The movie, based on the real life stories of David and Nic Sheff, a father who witnesses his son’s addiction to methamphetamine and heroin, is forced to make artistic plot choices.
I wondered how the movie director was going to handle the son’s seemingly endless relapses chronicled in the book. A typical Hollywood story has the hero slay the monster and then when everyone thinks the monster is dead, the monster comes back to life and the hero must slay it again after coming perilously close to death yet again. The problem with the real life plot of addiction is that one relapse is rare. In the book, the young man had more than I could easily count. He had so many, I felt like flipping the pages to get to the end and some resolution. Enough already! I get it!
In the movie, the director makes the artistic choice of stopping the movie after the second relapse. The father’s love for his son is apparent. The son’s helplessness in the grips of addiction is vivid. The credits roll with the coda: ”Through an incredible amount of hard work and support, Nick has been sober for 8 years. One day at a time.”
Had they followed the book and the real story, people would have likely left the theater. Movie directors are allowed license as long as they hit at the truth, which in this case, the movie does. Drug addiction is a horrible disease (not a character flaw) that can strike anyone. In the Sheff’s case, Nic has an undiagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. When he tries drugs, they medicate his disease and for the first time he feels normal and whole — a common narrative for many who become addicted in this way. Of course eventually the addiction makes him feel anything but normal.
Even with a shrunken narrative, drug addiction doesn’t make an easy movie to watch.
One reviewer, Jeffrey Anderson of Common Sense Media, said of the movie, “Lots of anguish in heavy, repetitive drug-addiction drama.”
This is not a popcorn on a Saturday night movie. It does serve as documentation of an epidemic that is gripping our country and tearing families apart, or in some case, pulling them together.
Families who have experienced addition will watch this movie and feel less alone. That is no small thing.
Here is an excellent analysis of the movie by a woman who experienced a similar situation with her family.
It is streaming free on Amazon Prime.