Call Me By Your Name

Beautiful Boy

21/01/19

The people emerging from the afternoon screening of Beautiful Boy, still mopping at their eyes, pay testament to the fact that this film is what used to be termed a ‘four handkerchief weepie.’ My tears are undoubtedly flowing as abundantly as many others in the audience, because this is a heartrending story about a father’s desperate attempts to deal with his beloved son’s drug addiction. Be warned, it does not exactly make for a side-splitting trip to the cinema.

Freelance journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell, who seems to be in so many films lately it’s a wonder he didn’t land the title role in Mary Queen of Scots) has always had a close relationship with his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet), a handsome and talented young lad who appears to have the brightest possible future ahead of him – until crystal meth addiction gets in the way and turns him into a deceitful, self-destructive shadow of what he once was. David can only watch in abject misery as all his hopes for his son’s future go headfirst down the nearest toilet – and we share his pain. It’s like watching helplessly as an out of control vehicle hurtles headlong to destruction, knowing that we are powerless to change anything.

Based on two books – one by the father and the other by the son – Beautiful Boy attempts to give us both sides of the story, though it must be said that I am occasionally left wanting more detail – and there is the conviction that some of the less salubrious elements of the tale have been lightly glossed over, perhaps because they may not show the protagonists in the best light. For instance, at one point David says that he has made mistakes in parenting Nic, but we don’t see any – indeed, he emerges as an almost saintly figure, working tirelessly to offer help and financial support.

The film belongs to the two leads and Chalomet, building on the superb work he did in Call Me By Your Name, manages to make us care about Nic, even as he does the most heinous things to the people who love him, even stealing money from the younger brother who clearly idolises him. Maura Tierney as David’s second wife, Karen, doesn’t have an awful lot to do here and, for that matter, neither does Amy Ryan as his first wife, Vicki. The story skips nimbly back and forth in time, using earlier scenes to emphasise the implicit trust that father and son once enjoyed and there are some clever uses of music to help tie things together – any film that features Neil Young’s Heart of Gold gets brownie points from me, even if its appearance precedes one of the story’s most distressing scenes.

The film ends with a plea for addicts everywhere to seek help and reminds us that, in America, drug addiction is the primary cause of death for young men under the age of fifty, which is sobering news, and underlines how the massive profits enjoyed by both drug suppliers and treatment centres are shameful and obscene.

Beautiful Boy is a heartfelt film with an important message and it deserves to be seen, but be prepared, take a hanky. You’ll probably need it.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Call Me By Your Name

08/11/17

This slow, languorous, coming-of-age film by Luca Guadagnino has been stirring up some Oscar buzz recently, but it’s been a hard film to view with only one showing a day at the multiplexes – and even that in the morning! It’s easy enough to appreciate why it isn’t considered a ‘bums on seats’ vehicle – weighing in at two hours and twelve minutes, it certainly takes its own sweet time to play out and with not an awful lot in the way of storyline, it was never going to drag in the superhero crowd – but it recounts a tale of a young boy coming to terms with his own burgeoning sexuality, eloquently and without sensationalism. And that’s surely something worth supporting.

Set in Northern Italy in 1983, this is the story of seventeen year old Elio Perlman (Timothy Chalamet), a talented young musician who leads a very privileged existence in the country house belonging to his parents, a Professor of Classical Antiquity (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, Annella (Amira Casar). With a cook and a gardener to cater for their every whim, there isn’t much to do to pass the time but lounge indolently around in the sunshine, eating, drinking, reading books and occasionally splashing about in a whole host of watery locations. Things change dramatically, however, when young and impossibly handsome American research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives at the house for a six week stay. At first, Elio finds the newcomer brash and arrogant, (and so do I, come to think of it) but as the barriers gradually start to come down, the two young men bond over their shared Jewish heritage and their love of music – and it isn’t very long before Elio realises he is falling hopelessly and wretchedly in love with Oliver…

That’s pretty much it as far as story goes, but there’s plenty here to enjoy, not least the ravishing cinematography that will have you pining for a long summer holiday in Italy. Chalamet is clearly something of a find, managing to convincingly demonstrate all of Elio’s doubts and fears, while Armie Hammer has clearly come a very long way since The Lone Ranger. A concluding speech by Stuhlbarg’s character felt a little overcooked, but I was nonetheless glad it was there, because here was a parent being completely non-judgemental about the sexuality of his son, which is a pretty rare, but very welcome thing to witness in a film.

There probably isn’t a great deal more to say about this, except perhaps, that in these short-attention-span times, films like this don’t often see the light of day – and if cinema chains won’t offer people enough opportunities to see them, they certainly aren’t going to survive for very much longer. If this comes to a screen near you, do take the opportunity to see it. It’s really rather charming.

And as for that Oscar buzz? Well, we’ll see in the fullness of time. It’ll be rather ironic if it wins something – a film that hardly anyone got the chance to see.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney