×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jumping in Time Works for ‘Beautiful Boy’ Storytelling Structure

Beautiful Boy” uses non-linear storytelling, intercutting frequent flashbacks — sometimes very brief, sometimes longer — in the fact-based tale of a dad (Steve Carell) dealing with his son’s (Timothee Chalamet) drug addiction and rehab.

Director Felix van Groeningen and his editor Nico Leunen have used this method of storytelling for five of the six films they’ve made together. The style is a good match for the story of the Amazon-Plan B film: “The flashbacks are important to show the emotional journey of these characters, to see the unique bond, and to see David questioning himself,” says van Groeningen. “This shows how his memory works and shows their higher highs and lower lows.

“I give Nico a lot of credit for being able to jump around time and not confuse the audience. With the first cut, we had to find the emotional logic that makes sense. Other versions jumped back and forth more, and they didn’t work. So we cut it by trial and error and then when it happens — that’s the magic of moviemaking,” he laughs.

Rehab is by definition cyclical, he says, with progress and relapses. Since the story spans more than three years, it was hard to make sure this wasn’t repetitive. That concern began with the scriptwriting, by the director and Luke Davies, adapting twin autobiographical books from David and Nic Sheff, through to editing and post-production.

Van Groeningen also credits his editor with finding the truth of the story by playing with chronology.

“There is a scene late in the film, with David and Karen [his second wife, played by Maura Tierney] at an an Al-Anon meeting where a woman is talking about her daughter.” Originally, that scene was in a different place but didn’t work, so Leunen wanted to cut it. “I said, ‘It’s too important, we can’t cut it.’ Nico had the genius idea to put it near the end, and it made everything come together. By moving it, everything fell in place.”

Van Groeningen also praises his cinematographer Ruben Impens and production designer Ethan Tobman, who create the increasingly different worlds of David and Nic, with an impressive re-creation of a Marin County house. The first story is a genuine house, while the second story was completely built on a stage. The house changes with small details denoting the passage of time. One example: As things get tougher, Karen works to make the house more colorful.

The director, who is making his English-language debut, praises Tobman as “an incredibly talented artist. For me, it was new to work with a production designer. In Belgium we call them art directors, and they help you find locations. But a production designer has a vision for the whole movie, to assist and guide you. ”

Another subtle example: the film’s distinct rehab centers. In visiting real-life centers, Ethan noted something that he incorporated into the design. “In almost every place, there are people talking, but there are always a lot of empty chairs, which made it just felt so authentic and sad. There are a lot of people seeking help, but there are many more who are staying away.”

More Film

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content