Based on the memoir "Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff and "Tweak" by his son, Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.
Felix van Groeningen
Jeremy Kleiner, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt
Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
When I first read father and son David and Nic Sheff's memoirs back in 2014, I was viscerally moved. David and Nic wrote from their personal experiences of living through recovery and relapses, but also the moments of life’s joy, innocence, and love. They start out thinking that they have the tools to deal with Nic’s addiction, to “solve” it. They don’t, but they learn a lot along the way. As time passes, there are moments where control seems beyond their reach and they experience how the consequences of addiction affect every fiber of their lives.
I had thought about making an English language movie in the past but nothing had spoken to me personally the way the Sheffs’ story did. Family dynamics, the illusion of control, the passage of time - these are themes I was drawn to in my previous films. I had dealt with substance abuse in some of my films, and the raw emotions of the Sheff’s story – and how they told it – moved me. Their family believes in unconditional love, and yet they had to come to terms with the fact that there are no easy answers and dealing with addiction is impossibly irrational. I was in some ways daunted by covering the years and extent of their story, but it felt urgent and necessary and, with Plan B as my partners, I felt compelled to devote years of my life to telling it. I never anticipated it would be such an incredible journey.
The Sheffs invited me into their lives and were incredibly open with me throughout this experience. They were honest about everything they went through, sharing their deepest fears and feelings of shame too. To experience how they live and how close they are is really amazing to see. Although it’s far away from where I grew up, the way David and Nic described their lives, a lot of that felt familiar to me. I grew up in a very different family, but the love between them is something I could really relate to. The core of their beautiful family, which gets tested in a very big way, and the idea of genuinely being there for each other moved me very much.
I make films because they oblige me to process my own experiences and to face the hard things I need to. By diving head first into that particular feeling (dealing with my past, dealing with loss, etc.) through my films, I learn from them. I learn to confront life and, in doing so, I appreciate it all the more. I lost my father when I was only 26 and, in many ways, my father still lives in me through my movies. It’s also why I’m drawn to father – son stories. I want celebrate life through my films. I try to understand what each character goes through, and I hope the empathy I experience is felt by the viewers too.
I learned from David and Nic’s books that my family and I had certain prejudiced towards addicts’ behavior. We hadn’t seen all the ways to deal with it, ways to try to help. Their story inspired us to make a film, that we hope in some small way, could give voice to so many people struggling with addiction. To show in a simple, honest and raw way, the complexity of the illness.
As we finished the film and I returned to Belgium, I became a first time father to my son. It is incredible to feel the joy of loving someone that much. I hope this film helps people to feel and understand different points of view and might open the hearts and minds of the people who see it, as the Sheffs’ story did for me.