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The Boys and the Band

Beautiful Boy and Bohemian Rhapsody



BEAUTIFUL BOY. The truism that addiction is no laughing matter is apparently and unfortunately not lost on concurrent father and son memoirists David and Nic Sheff, nor on Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen, who adapted those memoirs into a screenplay that the latter went on to direct. The end result of all that, Beautiful Boy, tests its audience's aversion to sentimentality so frequently and forcefully that, despite some moments of near-transcendence, it leaves one feeling talked at, rather than having been an intimate witness to something both mundane and devastating, all-encompassing but sadly routine and usually invisible.

David (Steve Carell), the elder Sheff, has a son named Nic (Timothée Chalamet) with his first wife Vicki (Amy Ryan). He has settled in a rustic-chic rural Marin house, remarried to painter Karen Barbur (Maura Tierney), with whom he has a set of young twins. It's a good life, from the look of it, made possible by David's success as a freelance writer and shored up by the loving relationships at the heart of it. By all indications David is a completely devoted father and manages the tenuous balance of being both parent and friend to Nic with aplomb. And so, as his oldest child transitions from adolescence into adulthood, simultaneously drawing away from their shared pastimes and into himself, David is troubled but willing to cede some territory to the process of growing up.

Before long, though, Nic is vanishing from home for days at a time, returning shaking and sunken-eyed, refusing to interact. It's the beginning of a prolonged and painful — for all parties — cycle of depression, mania, disengagement, clarity, relapse and repeat that almost everybody can recognize. Nic has found drugs — methamphetamine in particular, with heroin as a stand-in when necessary — or drugs have found him, depending on one's sensibilities. And because Nic's psychology and biochemistry are so well-suited to the effects of those compounds, he is profoundly unable to "experiment" or use them in moderation. Instead, he tumbles rapidly into addiction before high school graduation. He's in and out of recovery, including a stint that delays his college matriculation and eventually he's in the wind.

This story is a helpful, hopeful one, or at least I repeat that to myself to combat the dominant notion that a well-known writer not only got his own account of his son's struggles published but the son's version as well; color me cynical. Whether or not the motive for telling this story was opportunistic, I think people in the real world can benefit from it. Nic beat the odds, at least so far, even after his beleaguered but always loving father had to let him go and hope he bounced when he hit the bottom. And I think there is a compelling new take on that story to be told but Beautiful Boy, despite strong but sometimes too-strong performances by its leads, is not it. It'll extract tears from much of the audience but so will a well-made after-school special. R. 120M. BROADWAY.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Whether or not one likes the music of Queen, it is inarguable that it had a sound very much its own and lead singer Freddie Mercury had one of the most distinctive voices in rock and roll. Ever. Period. Full stop. That's a fact and that the story of this band and its iconoclastic, pioneering front man is worthy of the biopic treatment is another. That said, this attempt by director Bryan Singer (who may, in the final tally, go down as one of the great villains of contemporary Hollywood, given the trail of sexual misconduct charges that follows him, but that's another story), for all its energy and lavish trappings, leaves me thinking of all the things I didn't see onscreen, of the story left untold.

The movie takes an unsurprising, linear approach to its subject: Freddie (Rami Malek), né Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents eventually settled in London, feels unsuited to the confines of a conventional life. He's ambitious and flamboyant and a talented singer, and these attributes land him a gig singing with a borderline successful pub band. That band will of course become the arena act called Queen and he will become one of the biggest celebrities in the world. That process, or at least how it's presented here, will surprise no one. It's triumph and tragedy writ large, with Freddie becoming enamored of his own stardom, prey to influencers, the definition of hubris humbled by life. There's truth in it but I can't help feeling like there's something missing.

Malek's performance is fairly mesmerizing: He chews the scenery with his formidable chompers but so did the man he's playing. But the rest of the band are barely given identities and seem present mainly to act as collective foil to the star. I must admit that the live-show recreations — including the band's complete Live Aid set — are exhilarating but, for all their joy and energy, they also highlight the lack thereof elsewhere in the story. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

See showtimes at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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