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TIFF 2018: How Music Combines Two Memoirs In ‘Beautiful Boy’

Dealing with addiction and confronting the long road to recovery seemed to be a major theme at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Addiction was accurately and honestly portrayed on the big screen at TIFF 2018 from the emotional detailing in A Star Is Born, the fractured-family drama Ben Is Back, and Nic’s willingness to take a journey into hell in Beautiful Boy.

Based on the bestselling pair of memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff, Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy—the director’s first English language film—tells the heartbreaking and inspiring story of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years, stirring up some major Oscar buzz for lead actors Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.

While the dark drama’s plot is told in non-linear visual style, the music in the film fills in the missing gaps using different genres to highlight the most poignant moments. The Beautiful Boy soundtrack gives context to the two memoirs through its use of genre and songs that bring nuance, humour, and clarity to a bleak epidemic strongly linked to a victim-blaming narrative.

The film’s scattershot use of nearly every music genre out there is a little jarring at first. Initially, it can seem like it’s distracting from the plot but after a couple bursts of song, each music genre is highlighting different aspects of the story.

For example, when Nic is starting his downward spiral into addiction, classic alt-rock music blares through the scene, dipping back and forth between a young Nic sharing a joint with his father to becoming a full-fledged meth addict. Old school R&B backdrops the parent’s experience at an addict support meeting. Electro-pop serves to create an illusion showcasing how, on the outside, it seems like Nic is finally getting his life together having graduated college, while internally, he’s struggling with possible relapse. Ethereal opera closes out the film as Nic realizes his remaining alternatives are either death or healing, while David is there to support in the latter.

The song choice is central to Beautiful Boy as well in how it uses canny tracks to heighten certain moments without seeming heavy-handed. It’s can seem like too much sometimes—with the lyrics of Perry Como covering Fiddler on the Roof’s “Sunrise, Sunset” to Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” transcending Nic’s sobriety—but the music offers easing transitions amid the plot’s undeniably wrenching journey.

The soundtrack is a catalogue of depressives from Bowie to Buckley, with some Nirvana thrown in for good measure, plus Sigur Ros and Henryk Gorecki doing the emotional heavy lifting. Using everything from Mogwai to John Lennon, the film’s soundtrack and score is emotionally impactful, underscoring devastating moments of dialogue, with everything from slow and wistful tracks or a loud, brash tunes to harrowingly explore the depths of addiction.

The film veers from addiction to rehab again and again, upping the ante of misery with each new turn, as the music anchors the significant conversations between father and son.

Beautiful Boy hits theatres everywhere October 12.