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Movie Review

He was, you know. A beautiful boy. All brown hair and wide eyes and heart.

He spoke in Klingon, or tried at least. He loved surfing. As he got older he wrote and drew and, when he applied to six colleges, got accepted to every one of them.

After he got the good news, he pulled out a joint and asked his dad to help him celebrate.

David Sheff remembers that moment. He might've known then that Nic was at a crossroads, with one fork in the road pointed toward annihilation. Should've known, maybe. But David smoked marijuana when he was younger, too. Sometimes he still did.

Nic assured his dad that he was in control. He worked so hard in high school. He was poised to succeed in college. "I deserve to party a little now," he says.

David answers with three words that will haunt him ever after.

"Just be careful." And they smoked together.

The summer turned to fall, turned to months and years. Forget the weed: Nic was doing cocaine and LSD and heroin now. The worst, though—by far the worst—was the crystal meth.

The drugs were seemingly wonderful at first. Nic wrote that they turned his black-and-white world to technicolor. It's hard to shut the door on such a world. At first you don't want to. And then, when part of you does, you discover you can't. The demons of addiction prop the door open, leaving the user to listen to the wailing madness beyond, and wail in turn.

As David watches his son sink ever deeper into addiction's crystal cloud, he learns what meth does to a user: It cuts off the body's natural dopamine factories. It files away your nerves. It sets the brain's panic receptors on fire.

For all of those reasons, meth addiction is one of the hardest habits to treat. Success rates, he's told, are in the single digits.

More than 7 million Americans battle drug addiction.

Just one matters to David right now.

His son. His beautiful boy.

Positive Elements

"Everything," David sometimes tells Nic in times better and worse. "Everything," Nic repeats.

How much does David love his son? More than anything. More than everything. Through this multiyear saga, we see this father's love repeatedly tested, as David tries almost everything to help his son. He brings him home. He sends him to expensive treatment facilities. When he learns that Nic's in a hospital across the country, David rushes to rescue and reclaim him—only to find that when Nic learned he was coming, his son yanked the IV out of his arm and left.

And as the film goes on, it teaches its hardest lesson, perhaps the hardest lesson that any parent can learn: There's only so much you can do.

We see David and his second wife, Karen, attend a support group, where banners featuring three "Three Cs" hang on the wall: You didn't cause it; you can't control it; you can't cure it. For parents conditioned by years of raising and protecting and nurturing their children, these Cs prove to be incredibly hard to accept, and David struggles with all of them. Eventually, the movie underscores the ultimate reality of the addict: Only addicts themselves can conquer addiction.

[Spoiler Warning] But here's the good news: The movie, as hard as it can be to watch at times, suggests it can be done.

Spiritual Content

As David tries to understand his son's addiction, he takes another young addict to lunch. She admits that she's been in rehab once or twice, but she hated it: She was turned off by "all that God s---."

We see a pastor holding a Bible at a wedding ceremony. David finds a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned in Nic's room, the final word in the title referencing a kind of spiritual damnation. When an addict is taken to a hospital, parents are told that it's a "miracle" he's still alive.

Sexual Content

Nic breaks one of his sobriety stints with an old girlfriend. They go to her parents' house, cook some meth and inject it. They wind up in a shower. Fully clothed (but sopping wet), they have sex (which the camera watches until they're done).

We see Nic occasionally in just his underwear. In more sober times, Nic and a girlfriend kiss. When David invites a young apparent addict to lunch, she says that "most guys just ask for" oral sex.

Violent Content

We're told that meth addicts sometimes lash out violently. While Nic never physically attacks anyone, he does get pretty agitated at times. He and his addict girlfriend violently break into David's house (with Nic bashing his shoulder into a back door until it pops open). He also breaks a pot.

Nic resuscitates his girlfriend after she overdoses and stops breathing. He lands in the hospital himself, but he leaves before David (and the movie camera) can get to him. Nic collapses in a bathroom after an overdose. Someone's head thunks on a car. A sober Nick lifts his younger brothers and sisters and playfully throws them around as they frolic in a sprinkler. We hear about people dying from overdose.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 40 f-words. We also hear four s-words and other vulgarities such as "a--," "d--n" and "crap." God's name is misused four times, once with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Obviously, Beautiful Boy is predicated on the use and abuse of illegal drugs. We see plenty of illicit substances ingested in various ways. But to the film's credit, we also witness the destructive, detrimental effects they cause. There's no glamor in the drug use and addiction depicted here.

Nic injects himself several times with crystal meth (and shoves a syringe into his girlfriend's arm at one point, as well). We see Nic (and his father) smoke marijuana. Nic does experience some seasons of sobriety, which makes scenes depicting him falling off the wagon again some of the hardest to watch in the film.

At one point, when Nic uses the bathroom in his girlfriend's parents' home, he spies some vials of prescription pills and pops a few before he heads back down to dinner. Later, when he breaks more than a year of sobriety, he buys some drugs, then goes back to the very same house to "party" with his reunited gal-pal. After the high wears off, we see him rolled up on the couch in his underwear, weeping uncontrollably over what he's just done.

When Nic is off drugs and sober, he comes across as intelligent and thoughtful, full of fun and life. When he's on them, he can be manipulative, uncaring, frantic and despairing. We see his descent into addiction through a journal he keeps, full of his written musings and sometimes disturbing doodles. Some depict characters shooting up. His poetic meanderings first trumpet how drugs have opened up new worlds for him. Then he talks about how the shame he feels for doing drugs makes him want to forget … which, unsurprisingly, leads him to more drug use. Later pages are filled with unintelligible writing, then meaningless scribbles, and finally, on the last page, simply an eye.

David admits to his son that he experimented with drugs, too. And as he's trying to better understand the drug that Nic's most addicted to, he even buys some and uses it himself. He snorts the meth instead of shooting it, and we see him in the throes of the high—knocking things around as jazz music plays loudly. We also see him lying on the floor, moaning a little.

People drink wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Other Negative Elements

Nic vomits a few times—including once all over his father as David pulls him out of an alley and tries to drive him home. Their relationship, obviously, becomes strained: Nic breaks into David's house to steal money, and he often chastises his father for not doing what Nic thinks he should do to "help" him.

The movie also illustrates how much a family member's addiction can impair relationships around the addict as well. David and his ex-wife, Vicki, fight and accuse each other over who's most to blame for Nic's issues. Nic's problems wear on David's and Karen's relationship at times, too.


Shortly before seeing Beautiful Boy, I read this passage from Gregory David Roberts' novel Shantaram:

"The first light that junkies lose is the light in their eyes. A junkie's eyes are as lightless as the eyes of Greek statues, as lightless as hammered lead, as lightless as a bullet hole in a dead man's back. The next light lost is the light of desire. Junkies kill desire with the same weapon they use on hope and dream and honour; the club made from their craving. And when all other lights of life are gone, the last light lost is the light of love. Sooner or later, when it's down to the last hit, the junkie will give up the woman he loves, rather than go without; sooner or later, every hard junkie becomes a devil in exile."

We see that light fade from Nic, step by step, scene by scene. We see it flicker like a candle starved of oxygen. Nic, like that candle flame, almost dies before our eyes.

And as I watched Beautiful Boy, it occurred to me how addiction can kill a person long before the coup de grâce—how fathers and mothers and brothers and friends can grieve for the person they lost, even as the person still draws breath. Perhaps the addict grieves for himself, too. Addiction, after all, can look like the stages of grief: denial and anger, bargaining and depression. Nic experiences all of these and more before he accepts help. Before the cycle renews again.

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to say that Beautiful Boy is not a particularly family-friendly movie. It's filled with drug use and cursing and a lot of seriously uncomfortable behavior. It's hard to sit through. And for some Christian adults who sit through this movie, Beautiful Boy may even stir something like … pride? They can see where David could've done better—the mistakes that David himself sees, in retrospect.

But as I watched this movie, I thought about those parents, Christian or otherwise, who've watched their own children become very different adults than their parents had ever imagined: Beautiful boys and girls who slipped into drugs or promiscuity, who left school or left the faith, who walked away from their parents' teaching via small steps or one, massive jump. The guilt and grief. The overwhelming sadness.

"It was like me destroying my own life was a rejection of him—because my life and everything I am has always been such a reflection of him." Nic Sheff—the real Nic Sheff, now eight years sober—wrote that in The Fix about himself and his father, David. And therein lies the movie's hope.

During a moment of sobriety in the movie, Nic stands up at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and talks about how amazing his mother and father have been. How much they've supported him through unimaginably such times. "I want them to be proud of me," he says through his tears. And he means it.

It doesn't stop the craving, because the craving never stops. Such good intentions don't prevent relapses on their own. We're broken. We're weak. God's most glorious creation is cracked and scabbed. His beautiful boys and girls are broken—all of us, but some seemingly more than others.

But the movie tells us that, underneath the scars and flaws, underneath the mistakes we make and the falls we take, a tiny glow of our God-given beauty lingers. And through dogged determination and faith and love, maybe we can find it again.

The Vicious Truth About Substance Abuse

Have you ever wondered what the Bible says about drugs and alcohol? Read stories about people overcoming substance abuse and learn more about resources to receive help. Read More.

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Steve Carell as David Sheff; Timothée Chalamet as Nic Sheff; Maura Tierney as Karen Barbour; Christian Convery as Jasper Sheff; Oakley Bull as Daisy Sheff; Amy Ryan as Vicki Sheff; Kaitlyn Dever as Lauren; Stefanie Scott as Julia; Julian Works as Gack; Kue Lawrence as 4- and 6-Year-Old Nic; Jack Dylan Grazer as 12-Year-Old Nic


Felix Van Groeningen ( )





Record Label



In Theaters

October 12, 2018

On Video

January 3, 2019

Year Published



Paul Asay

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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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