September 7, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Beautiful Boy,” “Homecoming” & “Vox Lux”


BEAUTIFUL BOY (Amazon/October 12):  A true-life story of drug addiction told with sincerity and superb acting, but which can’t shake the feel of generic problem drama.  Felix Van Groeningen’s film (co-written with Luke Davies) is based on parallel memoirs by recovering addict Nic Sheff (played most of the time by It Boy Timothee Chalomet) and his father David Sheff (Steve Carell).  Most of the script centers on the father, and since he lives in a gorgeous house out of Big Little Lies and has a successful writing career alongside his second wife Karen’s (Maura Tierney) art career, this is a very well-to-do white people version of addiction, and while that certainly doesn’t diminish the real suffering that the family went through, it places the tale at one remove from many viewers.  (David and Nick’s mother, played by Amy Ryan, have the resources to put their son in one private rehab clinic after another, until they reach one that charges $40,000 per month.)  Even more limiting, every character in the story is defined entirely by his or her relationship to Nic’s addiction, with virtually no other aspect of their lives on view, making Beautiful Boy feel like a single-minded exercise.  Within those boundaries, Beautiful Boy is affecting and even brave in its conclusion that an addict’s family can only do so much to rescue their son.  Carell is movingly understated (even if it would be nice to see him play a non-comic part that wasn’t summed up by “morose”), and Chalomet gives Nic a doomed-poet heartbreak.  Tierney and Ryan have much less to do, but do it well.  It’s not just the house that may remind some of Big Little Lies:  Van Groeningen seems to have studied Jean-Marc Valee’s style with care, and Beautiful Boy has enough free-floating time jumps and flashbacks bridged by music to make it seem like Amy Adams and her troubled sister might roller skate past Nic at any moment.  Like much else in Beautiful Boy, it feels a bit second-hand.

VOX LUX (no distrib/TBD):  No one will ever accuse Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux of any shortfall in daring.  Structually, stylistically and thematically, Corbet puts it all on the line.  Some of it works, some doesn’t, but it’s never less than fascinating to watch.  The main action of the film takes place in two distinct time periods:  the turn of the millennium, when young Celeste (the excellent Raffey Cassidy) survives a horrific tragedy and finds it a springboard to pop music stardom, and the present day, when the older Celeste (Natalie Portman) is a full-on raging diva, with a daughter (also played by Cassidy) who’s mostly been raised by Celeste’s sister (Stacy Martin).  Although there’s a familiar what-price-stardom? theme as one half leads into the other, Corbet has much more on his mind, from terrorism to narcissism to the nature of recurrence.  Portman, following on her performance in Jackie, goes for broke, and you can’t take your eyes off her, while Cassidy in her double role may be even more impressive, and Jude Law effectively links the halves as Celeste’s manager.  Corbet, whose second film this is, provides dazzling cinematography (shot on 35mm film) by Lol Crawley, and the reason Celeste’s musical numbers seem so authentic is because they were written by Sia.  A “film festival film” in the best sense, an uneven but often knockout attempt at making a bold artistic statement.

HOMECOMING (Amazon Prime/premieres November 2):  Providing more proof, as if it were needed, that the best of television needn’t bow even to the big-screen elite, Homecoming made a powerhouse premiere at Toronto with screenings of 4 of its 10 half-hour episodes.  It’s obviously a work in progress, and perhaps the show will collapse before its season ends (Amazon gave the series a 2-season order off the bat).  But it’s off to a sensational start.  Based on the hit podcast by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg (who also created the TV version), and with all episodes directed by Mr. Robot‘s Sam Esmail, Homecoming is so gripping that the fact it marks Julia Roberts’ first regular-series TV role is almost forgettable.  Roberts is excellent, though, as a protagonist who, in a way familiar to Mr. Robot fans, discovers that she’s less knowledgeable about the events of her own life than she thinks.  The action intercuts (with changes in aspect ratio) between 2018, when Roberts’ Heidi Bergman is a counselor treating military vet Walter Cruz (Stephen James) in an experimental program called “Homecoming” run by a company represented by the energetically untrustworthy Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale, also a Mr. Robot vet), and 2022, when Department of Defense investigator Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) is trying to find out just what happened at Homecoming.  Esmail allows himself some virtuoso camera moves from time to time, but mostly he depicts the story in straightforward dialogue scenes, spellbinding because of the crack writing, acting, editing, framing and production design.  It wasn’t clear whether the music at the Toronto screening was final or temp, but if that was the actual mix, it was a treat for film buffs, with cuts from any number of classic thrillers from the 1970s and beyond.  November 2, and the conclusion of the show’s cliffhanger, can’t come too soon.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."