"Beautiful Boy' shares a very personal story of drug addiction


“What a miracle it is that we’re sitting here.”

Those are the words of Nic Sheff, one of the subjects of Beautiful Boy, the devastating drama that premiered Friday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. Nic was an excellent student and seemingly model son when he gradually became addicted to drugs—all kinds, but most especially crystal meth—while in his teens. Felix van Groeningen’s film is based on the dual memoirs of that period by Nic and his desperate father David, both of whom were present at a post-screening Q&A, along with the director, producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, co-writer Luke Davies (Lion), editor Nico Leunen, and stars Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet and Amy Ryan.

For David Sheff, “Living this was traumatic, then writing [the book], and now this.” The journalist, whose account of his family’s struggle began as an article for The New York Times Magazine called “My Addicted Son,” told the audience at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre that he felt lucky: “They made a movie out of our lives that I didn’t think was possible.” He praised the film for avoiding the movies’ frequent depiction of drug-taking as fun and for being “a beautiful testament to those who suffer.”

Nic Sheff said he feared that his memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, would stigmatize him, but instead it led to “some amazing conversations. I hope the movie can do that on a bigger scale.”

For co-writer Davies, the project was also very personal: He himself had been a heroin addict in his 20s and wrote the novel Candy, about two addicts in love, which he co-adapted into a film starring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish in 2006. He wistfully recalled a memorable meeting at the Berlin Film Festival he had with Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman, two great talents who succumbed to addiction, and how news of Hoffman’s death was one of the factors that spurred him to return to the subject for Beautiful Boy.

Chalamet, who plays Nic with a magnetic James Dean-like intensity, was his typically charmingly awkward self in describing his effort to bring authenticity to his performance; for the TIFF premiere, he was dressed in a black-and-white patterned suit only someone is his 20s could pull off. Carell, clearly awed by his young co-star, called Chalamet’s tryout for the role “the best audition in history,” saying he couldn’t imagine another actor in the role.

Nic has been clean for eight years, but Beautiful Boy makes painfully clear that his struggle continues. May the awards-season success of this film continue to send Nic Sheff on a fulfilling path.