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Beautiful Boy: Actor Life meets Coaching Life meets Life Life.


In case you didn't know: It's Awards Season.

Your Sunday night television programing has been taken over by actors, directors, producers, and writers vying for 'Best insert category here' according to the foreign press, the critics, fellow actors, or who ever happens for vote for which ever particular awards show. And for the most part - it's the same movies, shows, actors, screenplays, etc. across the board.

As an actor, of course I love awards season. I love seeing the dream come true part. I'm that kid that's had my acceptance speech outlined and planned for years. But if I'm being honest - I have not been overly amused or wow-ed by the film nominations for several years now. Yes, each year there are one or two that I really like - maybe one that I love - and 99% of the time I know it's not going to be the winner. In 2016 I loved 'Brooklyn'. I really, really liked 'Bridge of Spies'. 2017: Team 'Lion'. Hard. Core. Team 'Lion'. I also loved, loved, loved 'Captain Fantastic' - both as a film and for Viggo Mortensen for Outstanding Actor.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it's awards season! I've been watching screeners as often as I can, and if I'm being perfectly honest - I'm not too amused this year. Again. Here's the thing: What is the criteria for a film being voted Best Picture? Can anyone tell me? I mean, I can look up the criteria for a film to be nominated, but what is one looking for when it comes to casting a vote for 'Best Picture'? Accessibility? Both physically as in locale as well as topic and the audience's understanding? Popularity and public opinion? Or, as I think of it: What's the scope of the story? What kind of undertaking was it to tell the story in 120 minutes? How well was that executed? And, the story itself. Does it go anywhere? But alas, there are no clear criteria.

Again, why am I telling you all of this? After watching most of the screeners thus far, the favorite for me is 'Beautiful Boy'.

One, Timothée Chalamet is beyond brilliant in an extremely challenging role. A role, which exteriorly says, "Leave me alone. Stay away.", but internally is screaming, "I need help! I want help!".

But what I loved the most was that there was no clear 'bad guy'. There was a Father genuinely doing to his best to do what was right for his addicted son. Sometimes it was providing support. Sometimes it was not. There was a Son battling addiction. Sometimes he won. Sometimes he did not. Sometimes he did everything in his power to stay strong and sober. Sometimes he did not. Sometimes they both made the best choices. Sometimes they did not.

That is where the Acting Life meets Coaching Life part comes in to play.

Most movies have you take the point of view of a certain character. The point of view is usually of your hero or heroine - the one who's moving the story along. It's what we do in life too - we have our point of view. And with the point of view we create our perceptions of circumstances, people, situations, and perspectives. But there's a real danger in that, because we then call our perspective and point of view 'truth' or 'fact', and all it really is is our interpretation of a situation, person, or circumstance that we call 'fact'. The danger is that we often forget or ignore that there are as many points of views, interpretations, and perspectives as there are people in any given situation. All calling their point of view the truth. Yet, in most movies we rarely see both sides, and all sides, and we don't see them sincerely.

I love movies where I empathize with all the characters 'good' or 'bad'. When a character seeks revenge for the murder of a family member is it good or bad? Why? We'll think, 'Is the character generally a 'good guy' or a 'bad guy''? Why should that make a difference? Murder is bad, yes? Yet, we empathize because we can understand the rage or hurt, the grief, the desperation. I feel we're losing this more and more in films today. It seems to me there's more of a 'good guy' or 'bad guy' situation in most films. But that's not realistic. That's not how life is. Again, I see a real danger in that. I also find it ironic that in acting classes one of the first things you're taught is that the bad guy never thinks he's a bad guy. A person always feels justified in their thinking and actions, yet we rarely see or hear about that genuine reasoning. We assume it's for the opposition of the 'good guy' - hate for the sake of hate, or power, or money. That's the majority of films I see these days. And rarely is a person doing something solely with these motives. I want to dig deeper. And frankly, we're doing a disservice if we're not digging deeper. In film and in life.

This is why I loved 'Beautiful Boy' so much. It could have easily been the movie about a Dad struggling with an addict son who can't get his shit together. Or it could have just as easily been a movie about a young man struggling with addiction and his father who doesn't understand what addiction is like. But it wasn't. It was SO MUCH MORE because we saw all of it. Both sides - good and bad - of both people. Which is far more like life than the other ways it could have gone. We all have good and bad, triumphs and struggles, confusion and chaos, and a lot of gray area. Rarely do we see our faults as 'bad' - we usually have a 'really good reason' as to why we did something or said something. We never think of ourselves as the 'bad guy'. Yet, I venture to guess that we all have been the villains in someone else's story at some point. Whether it was our intention or not. I want to see more of that - the good and bad of all involved.

This is that part where Acting Life meets Coaching Life meets Life Life.

Another reason I loved 'Beautiful Boy' - I have my own experience. I relate to it. I connect with it. Remember that part about how we have our own experiences and perspectives and interpretations of people and situations that are based on previous experiences and perspectives and interpretations of people and situations? My oldest brother was an alcoholic.

I have seen and experienced first hand the damage of addiction. Not meth as in this film, or the slew of other drugs, but alcohol. I have seen and felt the struggle of a father doing what he can for his son. I have seen the frustration and anger and heartbreak that come with it. There's a scene in 'Beautiful Boy' where Steve Carell tells his son he can't help him anymore. I sobbed because I remember seeing my Dad have the conversation, hanging up the phone, and trying to calm the terror that rose in him that he may have just said his last words to his son who risks his life by poisoning himself daily. I don't know if my Dad new I saw that or not.

In my real life version of 'Beautiful Boy' I'm the half-sister. Literally, just as in the movie, same Dad as the addicted son. Different Mom. Huge age gap. Rick was 20 years older than me. The biggest difference between the children in the movie and me is that I didn't have a 'sober' experience with my brother until I was in my first semester of college. I remember it clear as day.

I am 18 years old and at this point in my life I am acutely aware of my brother's alcoholism. I know of 3 in patient rehabs, plus countless attempts at AA, and the incessant teasing that I had my driver's license before he ever got his back. My Dad always had this thing that whenever my brother called drunk (which was any time he called) there would always come a moment where he'd say, "Here, talk to your sister' and he'd hand me the phone. I'm not sure why he did this. I think maybe he hoped that something I'd say would lead to an 'aha moment' or something (I had on many occasions pleaded with my brother to stop drinking), but these conversations were mainly awkward silence. See, my brother and I didn't really have a relationship to begin with. A twenty-year age difference combined with drunken rage didn't make a strong foundation for building a relationship. I never told my Dad, or Mom for that matter, how often I heard the phrases, "I wish you were never born" or "You'll take all of Dad's money leaving us nothing!" As an adult I understand what was happening, but as a child I had no idea why my brother despised me.....and why he was so upset about the quarter Dad gave me for the gumball machine.

As I got older I came to dread that moment when my Dad would hand me the phone. It felt like punishment for both of us - he had to take the brunt of the slurred rant and then in an effort to end the conversation with out pushing my brother over the edge he'd hand me the phone and Rick would pseudo quell the rage. I would say hi. He would say hi. He'd say, 'What are you doing?' and I'd say, "Homework" or "Just got back from practice." and he'd say, "Yeah. Ok, I gotta go." and that would be the end.

Then one weekend in the fall, I'm home from college, my Dad's on the phone with Rick, I'm in the kitchen doing something, and I hear my Dad say, "Here, talk to your sister." I shake my head, wave my hands no, as my Dad shoves the phone into my hands nodding yes. I take it, roll my eyes (possibly my entire head) and say hi. From the other end I hear, "Hey Linds! Home this weekend huh? Dad says you've been working on a show." I froze. I mean FROZE. I looked up at my Dad he's staring at me with the biggest grin on his face nodding his head. This is the brother that lived in our home town, but had never attended a single play (I was in my first at the age of 6), sporting event (basketball, volleyball, softball, swim team beginning around the age of 9), no choir concerts, band concerts, dance recitals, awards nights, nothing. But that night Rick and I had a half hour conversation about a play I was working on. I was 18 years old the first time I experienced 'Sober Rick'. For the first time in my life I understood what people meant when they'd say, "He really is a good guy."

Rick's sobriety lasted a few months and then the addiction took over again, then sober for a bit, then not. The cycle was harder on me every time. You know that saying, "You can not see the light without the darkness?" For 18 years I only knew the dark side of my brother. But that wasn't the whole him. That wasn't the entirety of his person. When he was sober, man, it was an entirely different person. A person who laughed instead of yelled. A person who was polite, and quiet, and pensive, instead of agitated, and loud, and a bully. And, most importantly, when he was sober he truly wanted to stay sober. He wanted to be better, and do better, and he was truly and sincerely apologetic for his words and actions and the pain he had brought to us all. It was heartbreaking. It was a real life case of Jekyll and Hyde.

I have a few other amazing memories with my brother. One was for his birthday - we were out for dinner and my Dad had said something - I have no idea what it was now - but it was one of those moments where Rick and I looked up and caught each other's eyes across the table and burst out laughing. I mean like stomach hurt, tears running down our faces laughing, and we high-fived across the table. On the ride back to his house we rode in the back of the car laughing and teasing my Dad and then had a genuine hug and an "I love you". On the way home with my parents I remember saying, "That was SUCH a good night!" My Dad said, "Your brother is a good man. He has some demons, but he is a good person." I wish I knew that person better. When my Dad passed away in 2005 Rick had been in a long run of sobriety and we worried how it would affect him. He did ok for a bit. Then not.

My brother passed away in 2012. He drunkenly fell and broke his wrist and had to have surgery. Surgery comes with pain pills and he passed about a week after. An overdose was a genuine concern for all of us. The autopsy came back - it wasn't an overdose - but it was due to complications of alcohol and substance abuse. I remember being so angry. Angry that his life was cut short due to his addiction and choices; Angry that no one could help him and that he couldn't help himself; Angry that he had all the knowledge of what to do but couldn't seem to do it; Angry that there was nothing we could do to help; Angry that I didn't get more time with good Rick, and also angry that I did get time with good Rick. By having the good time I was acutely aware of all the lost good time. So many people at the wake told us that he was an amazing neighbor, always friendly, always kind. I remember being upset that they all experienced this side of him and I barely saw it. I also remember thinking, "Well Dad would be happy that the anger and dark side was only directed to us."

Mostly I remember how complicated it all was: All the feelings - all the questions. Could we have done more? Should we have done less? Knowing it wasn't entirely his fault, but knowing he made choices day after day. Knowing all the information we know about addiction and substance abuse, but it not being enough. All the anger, and sadness, and fear, and hope. It's all complicated. And that complication is what I appreciated so much in 'Beautiful Boy'. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. The Beautiful. On all sides.


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