Honey Boy is a film directed by Alma Har’el, and interestingly enough, written by Shia LaBeouf, whose life serves as the basis of the film. Serving as a semi-autobiographical story about a child actor and his abusive father/manager, this can be viewed as therapeutic for LaBeouf. While this may seem like the same old story, Honey Boy stars LaBeouf as a version of his own father, and it seems the actor/activist/writer poured his hurt soul directly onto the big screen. Starting out as a child star by 14, there was a very interesting story to be told here, and Honey Boy does a great job at conveying just how much pressure comes with fame; not just for the star, but for those around the star as well.
This film would have had a serious problem conveying its emotional beats with a poor child actor. Luckily, Noah Jupe is great as Otis, a young powerhouse throughout Honey Boy, who wonderfully balances the happiness of stardom and the longing for a more supportive father figure. And at the other end of the film, an unbelievable Lucas Hedges plays an older Otis, now dealing with the PTSD of his abusive upbringing. Rounded out by LaBeouf as Otis’ father, James, he steals the show time and time again. Between this and The Peanut Butter Falcon, LaBeouf is shining brightly and reminding everyone just how great of an actor he can be. This couldn’t have been an easy feat for LaBeouf, but it is certainly one he handles gracefully, and most importantly, in a beautiful manner.
Honey Boy isn’t a film that purely condemns the actions of James. Instead, LaBeouf seems conflicted about his relationship with his father. He highlights the strengths his father had as well as his shortcomings. By no means does it justify his actions, but it certainly paints an incredibly vivid portrait of a messy relationship that LaBeouf is still grappling with. Luckily, this film must have been therapeutic enough for some form of breakthrough. After all, it’s very clear he still has admiration for his father. Repeatedly, the film shows the notion of life being cyclical, and it’s not until this cycle is broken that one’s true life can begin. Hopefully, Honey Boy is a sign that LaBeouf has broken the cycle so he too can move forward.
As great as this film is, there are certainly some shortcomings that dampen the overall impact. Honey Boy has a few surreal moments during its short runtime, but they are used far too sparingly. The scenes are definitely enjoyable, but they seem shoehorned in due to not being more prevalent throughout. Furthermore, it felt as if the breakthrough in the final moments of the film seemed rushed and not fully developed. However, considering that the whole film is essentially developing itself as one massive breakthrough, it can be interpreted in different ways. Finally, singer/songwriter FKA Twigs is in this film, but her character is severely underutilized and seems to be in the film for two or three pivotal scenes, but is then forgotten about.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of this film is just how much life it gets through in such a short amount of time. With some fantastic use of juxtaposition viewing childhood versus adulthood and the lives of father and son, the parallels in this film are handled miraculously. Never does the film feel rushed, and even when it slows down to revel in its emotion, it doesn’t feel overt. LaBeouf’s script should definitely not be overlooked because it’s truly an astounding debut that feels nuanced and subtle, but knows exactly how to pack a punch. At one point, James tells Otis, “A seed has to completely destroy itself to become a flower”. With the release of Honey Boy, we can only hope that LaBeouf is now ready to bloom once again.
Amazon Studios is releasing Honey Boy in select theaters on November 8, 2019.