Honey Boy Movie Review: There's huge a difference between reading memoirs and watching one. Cinematic memoirs are not the easiest and especially when the persona is someone like actor Shia LaBeouf. The 33-year-old is a known face in Hollywood and was once a Disney boy, who starred in Even Stevens. Much of LaBeouf's life in his late twenties though has been filled with controversies following car crashes, anger outbursts and so on. In Honey Boy though, the actor emotionally bares it all , which is an autobiopic about his childhood. Written by LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har'el, the film was screened at MAMI Film Festival 2019 and fortunately, I had the chance to watch this gem.
The first time I watched the trailer of Honey Boy, I knew there was going to be something about this damaging tale that could either be highly narcissistic or blow-my-mind insightful. Luckily, it does turn out to be the latter. In the film, LaBeouf tells the story of his abusive childhood with his rodeo clown, drug-addicted father. What makes this film cathartic for the actor though is that he plays the character of his father in the film. Here's How Shia LaBeouf and ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ Co-Star Zack Gottsagen Became Best Friends.
Honey Boy follows the life of Otis Lort in two different phases, age 12 (Noah Jupe) and 22 (Lucas Hedges), and his relationship with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Otis is an aspiring actor who is destined for success but it is his father James and his domineering, abusive ways that scar Otis for life. As a 22-year-old, we see Otis coming to terms with the demons of his past and how they have led him to his warped present lifestyle.
The script of Honey Boy originally blossomed from a court-mandated rehab session after LaBeouf was diagnosed with PTSD. It was during these sessions of therapy that he was ordered to write out his memories and that journal became the basis of this story. Honey Boy is a self-indulgent piece that hits the right buttons with its emotions and performances. Whether is it is Har'el's indie meets the commercial style of direction or the brilliant performance of particularly Jupe and LaBeouf, something about this film keeps you invested. This is a father-son-tale is like no other because it revels in resentment and forgiveness, something that even as viewers it becomes hard for us to determine.
Having said that this tale is about dealing with trauma and unresolved issues, the film never gets dry and has its moments of fun as Jupe and LaBeouf's exchanges go from yelling and demeaning one another to cracking jokes. It's hard to really understand James who comes from a family with a history of alcoholism. He's a man who asks his 12-year-old son to smoke in the bathroom because he doesn't want others to think he's a 'shitty dad'. I cannot imagine LaBeouf's state of mind to play out these scenes without ever making it look bitter given his experiences. Shia LaBeouf Birthday Special: When the Actor Shocked Fans With His Extreme Method Acting for Fury and Other Films.
Where Har'el's direction truly stands out is that right from the beginning, there's an attempt to blur the real from reel. The film begins with Hedges' Otis probably shooting for what looks like a Transformers scene to later a terrible car crash inspired by LaBeouf's real-life. It establishes clearly how much of Otis' life remains to be an 'act' even when the camera stops rolling. One of the best scenes in the film is also where Hedges is shown to be in therapy and Martin Starr's character asks him to head to the woods and shout his lungs out. I won't go further into how it plays out but it makes a very important point. There a few moments where the film may seem dragged due to its sluggish pace and uninteresting for those who probably think there's not much to learn about LaBeouf's life.
Watch the Trailer of Honey Boy Here:
Natasha Braier's cinematography breathes another life into this film. From the mundane motel room where Otis and his father are put up to the freeway where James is 'building Otis a treehouse' (you'll have to watch out for this one), there's a great deal of visual indulgence she brings.
British actor Noah Jupe who was also seen in The Quiet Place gives a beautiful performance in this film. Much of Otis' emotional moments are thrust on Jupe's shoulders and he shines in those bits. He portrays LaBeouf's searing childhood trauma with much maturity and it is unmissable, especially in a portion where he gets emotional whilst acting in a sitcom scene that has a caring dad and later watches LaBeouf's James watch the same scene bereft on any emotions. His breakdown after this is Jupe's finest moment in the film.
I don't know how LaBeouf managed to put himself in the role of his father despite all that he has been through. What remains beautiful though is that he never tries to play out his old man as the villain of this story, it's almost like he's trying to figure out what went wrong. He's brilliant in the bits where he's seen being jealous of his son's talents, also in a scene where he breaks down and asks his son if he thinks he's happy being employed by his child. There are moments when you truly hate him and then those that are just pitiful. LaBeouf gives one of his career's best performances here. Mel Gibson and Shia LaBeouf Team Up for Jon S Baird’s Rothchild.
As for Lucas Hedges, he is one of the finest actors of his generation and his performances in films like Boy Erased, Manchester By the Sea are proof of that. Hedges channels in Otis'deeply rooted childhood trauma extremely well. In the scenes of his therapy sessions, he's simply amazing.
Honey Boy premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year and during a Q & A session, LaBeouf spoke about his artistic ambitions with this film. He said, "It is strange to fetishize your pain and make a product out of it. I never went into this thinking, ‘Oh, I am going to f**king help people.’ That wasn’t my goal. I was falling apart.” Perhaps it is this very reason why Honey Boy remains raw, it unfolds the heartbreaking dynamics between the father-son duo in an unhinged manner. Towards the end, there's a scene between Hedges' Otis and James where he says, “I’m gonna make a movie about you,” and LaBeouf responds “Make me look good, honey boy” and it all just comes together at this point. They are not the father-son duo but two men who are aware of their shortcomings and have moved past their resentments for each other.