Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Powerless against the intoxication

Beautiful Boy / Ben is Back
Regissør: Felix van Groeningen Peter Hedges

Two American films remind us of how severe the addiction affects the relatives.


Sometimes movies are made in parallel with strikingly similar themes, as in both Cloak (2005) and Infamous (2006) took on Truman Capote's work on the book In Cold Blood, or Danish The hijacking (2012) and US Captain Philips (2013) both were about cargo ships hijacked by Somali pirates. The fact that two recent American films talk about parents' challenges with a drug-addicted son may not be as surprising, given that drug use in the United States has reached an epidemic scale.

Beautiful Boy.


First out at Norwegian cinemas is Beautiful Boy, with premiere 4. January. This feature film is about real people and is based on both father and son's written memoirs, David Sheffs Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction and Nic Sheffs Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines. The successful freelance journalist and father David is played by Steve Carell, who has impressed in heavy drama roles in recent years after breaking through as an adult comedy actor. The son Nic is played by Timothée Chalamet, in his first major role after his breakthrough Call Me By Your Name. Both deliver excellent performances in a film that focuses on the relationship between the two characters – and David's growing powerlessness in the wake of the gifted son's experimentation with drugs that has led to a severe addiction to methamphetamine.


Beautiful Boy is the English-language debut of Belgian Felix van Groeningen, who previously directed, among other things Alabama & Monroe (2012) – a moving and freshly told drama about a musician couple losing their daughter in cancer. Again, Groeningen uses a non-linear chronology, which this time can make the first act in particular appear somewhat confusing. But it is just as nice that the film shows how things once were.

The flashbacks to Nic's upbringing gradually slip more seamlessly into the far gloomier contemporary narrative, and the narrative structure is also justified by the cyclical nature of the abuse. As it is said in one of the "rehab phrases" in the film: Relapse is part of the rehabilitation.

One might react that the film portrays such a resourceful family, as this is not representative of the regular abuser of methamphetamine in the United States. Nevertheless, here is a message that the problem can hit anyone. The film then tries not to give any clear answers as to why it happened to exactly Nic – who apparently had every opportunity in life.

Typical behavior patterns

ben is back has premiered at Norwegian cinemas a week out in February. In the film, Julia Roberts plays a mother named Holly who gets a surprise visit from the heroin-addicted son for Christmas, despite being admitted to a rehabilitation center. She tries desperately to get a normal celebration for her family, but the ghosts of her son Ben's past in the small town are many and dangerous. And the greatest of all is the uncertainty as to whether he will rush back.

Both Beautiful Boy and Ben is Back provide gripping and credible insights into the fight against intoxication.

This film is also very well played, with strong role interpretations by Roberts and Lucas Hedges, who plays Ben (and interestingly, the son of the film's director Peter Hedges). ben is back has several striking similarities to Beautiful Boy, for example, that the film's respective main characters David and Holly both have two younger children with a new spouse, in what otherwise appears to be well-functioning families. Some similar features in the course of action can in any case be explained by the typical behaviors of the addicts, which include repeated lies to the surroundings as well as strong feelings of shame and self-contempt. Also in the treatments they undergo – something the two films also deal with.

The incessant lies are most prominent in ben is back, which is a precise and intense depiction of what it is like to try to help a person you can never completely trust. It should nevertheless be objected that the film becomes somewhat weaker in the second half, when a little too many thriller elements are released at the expense of the personal drama.

Social causes

Ben Is Back Movie Trailer

The fact that both films are largely family relationships may be partly due to the American film tradition's emphasis on emphasizing such close relationships. The classic dramaturgy is often better suited to dramatize interpersonal conflict than to formulate systemic criticism. Just as full contains ben is back Elements that point to larger social contexts: Holly's African-American husband says at one point that the privileged Ben has already received far more help than he would have received if he were black. In another scene, Holly bumps into an aging doctor and scolds him because years ago he wrote off large amounts of opiates to young Ben – and reportedly caused his addiction. Without the impression that this is the only cause of the problem, which could easily have felt like an oversimplification. Ben, moreover, is far from the only drug addict in the small town – rather this is depicted as an epidemic.

Captivating and trustworthy

Julia Roberts plays mother Holly in Ben is Back.
Julia Roberts plays mother Holly in Ben is Back.

Despite their respective dramaturgical weaknesses, both are capable Beautiful Boy og ben is back to provide gripping and credible insights into the fight against intoxication, from a parent's perspective. The two films are unpleasant reminders of how hard the addict strikes the relatives. At the same time, they emphasize with a certain degree of austerity that it is ultimately the dependent self who has to fight the most difficult fight.

Beautiful Boy og ben is back has premiered in Norwegian cinemas on January 4 and February 8 respectively.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

You may also like