Movie Review: ‘Honey Boy’ is poignant look at Shia LaBeouf’s childhood
Director: Alma Har’el
Writers: Shia LaBeouf
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges
Synopsis: A young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health.
Shia LeBeouf is one of the most fascinating actors working right now, and Honey Boy is a love letter to a time in his life that helped shaped him into the artist he is today. That meta element alone in LaBeauf’s screenplay is intriguing, but beyond that, Honey Boy is a beautiful film about generational addictions and the fallout that comes in the aftermath. Elevated by great performances and Alma Har’el’s stunning direction, the emotion that comes with those ideas is quite powerful here.
Honey Boy bounces between two different timelines. One where Otis (the Shia Labeouf stand in) is a twenty-something (Lucas Hedges) and is in therapy for wreckless behavior, and another where Otis is a young teenager and actor (Noah Jupe). Young Otis lives in a small apartment with his father James (Shia LaBeouf) who is unreliable and too busy dealing with his own problems to be the kind of parent Otis needs. This results in Otis coping in ways his father doesn’t approve of, slowly building friction between the two until it all collides in the end. All of this is coupled with older Otis in therapy realizing that his father is the root of his emotional unraveling at that time.
It would have been easy for LaBeouf, as a screenwriter, to simply lay out all of his fathers demons and call that out as an excuse for how that made him bitter and volatile. But that’s not what he does. Instead, LaBeouf puts himself into his father’s shoes (somewhat literally as he does play his father in the film) and attempts to examine how his own personal experiences shaped him into who he was. And what we find out is that James’ mother (LaBeouf’s grandmother) was an abusive alcoholic who had severe problems of her own, thus having a massive effect on his father. The film doesn’t dive any deeper than that regarding LaBeouf’s lineage, but we can infer that if it went down the line we would probably find more addiction and emotional fallout. This gives James a compelling duality that makes sense of his behavor and abrasiveness. At the same time, though, Honey Boy doesn’t excuse the troublesome behavior. It simply demonstrates that it’s not black and white, that there are two sides to the coid and why James struggled to defeat his demons.
All of this makes Honey Boy a poignant experience. Watching young Otis yearn for his father’s attention is heartbreaking as we see James continuing to fail as a parent. It’s especially effecting because LaBeauf’s screenplay, heightened in Har’el’s mesmerizing direction, reverberates that all Otis wanted was his dad’s love. He didn’t need Hollywood elegance or anything outlandish, he just wanted James to be around.
It’s in that where Shia LaBeouf should be considered for an Oscar next February. He gives a career performance, slipping effortlessly between someone who loves his son, but as I’ve noted, a victim to generational addiction. He’s endlessly magnetic. Noah Jupe is equally as stunning in his performance, especially in the latter parts of the film where Otis is longing for fatherly comfort.
Honey Boy may disappoint those who are eager to see a conventional biopic as this is not one of those experiences. It’s artfully crafted and purposful with how it tells its story. Perhaps some of its meta qualities at the end will be too cute for some, but mostly it’s a great film that has a ton of earned emotion. The last shot of this film with linger with me for a long time to come and I cannot wait to see what LaBeouf has up his sleeve next.