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The list of serious Oscar contenders grew by two Friday night with Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet — recent best actor nominees for Foxcatcher and Call Me by Your Name, respectively — rocketing into contention for their portrayals of a father and son in Felix Van Groeningen‘s addiction drama Beautiful Boy, which had its world premiere at the Roy Thomson Hall as part of the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival.
Drawn from the memoirs of real-life father and son David and Nic Sheff, and adapted for the screen by Van Groeningen (the director of 2012’s The Broken Circle Breakdown, the best foreign-language film Oscar nominee from Belgium) and Luke Davies (himself a 2017 Oscar nominee for adapting Lion), Beautiful Boy was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation, followed by reviews that were generally mixed on the film but high on its central performances.
The story of a well-to-do California family plunged into crisis by a son’s experimentation with hard drugs will prove terrifying to many Academy members precisely because it could just as easily be their family’s story. Carell’s character is a loving and attentive father and Chalamet’s an intelligent and conscientious son — and then, before either even realize that something is amiss, both are virtually helpless as the lives they knew slip away. (Three years ago, Being Charlie, a film co-written by Rob Reiner and his son Nick about their experience with this sort of thing, had its world premiere at TIFF, but was never really heard from again.)
The fact that Beautiful Boy‘s characters are played by Carell and Chalamet, both actors who audiences are predisposed to like and root for, makes their troubles all the more painful. Chalamet has an Oscar-worthy scene at a diner where his character is jittery, nervous and lying and begging for money, whereas Carell has one in which his goodhearted character goes against his every instinct and turns down his son’s request for help. Though the film’s title refers to Chalamet’s character, Carell is clearly the — or at least a — lead, and Chalamet could go either way, lead or supporting.
My hunch is that noms for both are attainable — on the basis of the actors’ performances and onscreen interaction, which evokes memories of Raymond Massey and James Dean in East of Eden (1955). Additionally, the film’s producers, Plan B’s Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, have an Oscar track record that includes 12 Years a Slave, Selma, The Big Short, Moonlight, etc.). And this film is being released by Amazon, on Oct. 12, into the middle of an opioid crisis affecting large swaths of America. Some also feel that Amy Ryan, as the ex-wife of Carell’s character and birth mother of Chalamet’s, could also gain notice in the category of best supporting actress, in which she was nominated 11 years ago for Gone Baby Gone; she’s a wonderful actress, but I’m not as sure about that.
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