Review: Honey Boy

Year: 2019

Runtime: 94 Minutes

Director: Alma Har’el

Writer: Shia LaBeouf

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs

By Tom Moore

There hasn’t been a stronger or more talked about example childhood fame leading to a destructive transition into adulthood than the story of Shia LaBeouf. After becoming an absolute hit on Disney’s “Even Stevens” and other small movie roles, LaBeouf reached new heights in starring in “Disturbia” and the “Transformers” franchise – that is until people started to talk about something else with LaBeouf. With his countless run-ins with the law, the story of him sitting in a theater watching all of his films, and him telling everyone to “just do it” turning him into a living meme, he basically became the butt of the internet’s jokes.

However, through some of his latest works, including Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac,” “American Honey,” and “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” LaBeouf is back and looks like an entirely new person – likely because of his latest film. “Honey Boy” is not only the latest film that LaBeouf stars in and wrote but is also a personal story for him as it’s a fictionalized version of his troubled upbringing with his father, Jeffery. With the help of director Alma Har’el, every second of “Honey Boy” is purely personal and perfectly painful as it explores the woes of childhood fame and the ripples it creates later in life.

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In some ways, “Honey Boy” is a biopic that tackles the struggles LaBeouf faced growing up in the spotlight as it’s told through the eyes of Otis (Lucas Hedges). After some terrible run-ins with the law and becoming an alcoholic, Otis lands himself in rehab where he is forced to confront his past head on and deal with the pain that its been causing him for years. Confronting and accepting this pain comes in the form of Otis revisiting and recollecting his upbringing as a child (Noah Jupe) in the spotlight alongside his controlling and abusive father (LaBeouf).

“Honey Boy” is not only the latest film that LaBeouf stars in and wrote but is also a personal story for him as it’s a fictionalized version of his troubled upbringing with his father, Jeffery”

As Otis’ father, James, LaBeouf taps into the controlling and unloving nature that he went through as a child as he’s essentially playing his actual dad. While his name might not be Jefferey, he’s the Vietnam veteran, self-absorbed, recovering alcoholic that LaBeouf and Otis are a product of. The pain that’s within James and that he dishes out by isolating Otis from those around them and taking advantage of Otis’ desire for love hits hard because of how genuine LaBeouf’s performance is. It’s almost as if you’re going through cinematic therapy with LaBeouf and it’s such a personal and meaningful experience that you start to understand and sympathize with his pain – especially because Jupe and Hedges give performances that are just as strong.

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As the younger version of Otis, Jupe instantly has your heart with how he makes Otis such an innocent and mature person for his age. Although he respects his father and wants to do whatever he can for him to love him, he knows things and has the genuine care to want to do the right thing whenever he can. There’re even moments where Jupe delightfully shows how much he still wants to be a kid and is still growing up with a relationship he develops with a neighbor (FKA Twigs) of his. All of this combines to cause a constant battle of emotions within Otis that translates to Hedge’s older version flawlessly.

“What makes Otis’ journey to accepting his pain is how the younger and older version parallel throughout the film and are captured well because of Har’el’s great direction.”

As a young adult, you can tell that Otis has become a product of the abusive environment he grew up and Hedge’s showcases how haunted and broken he is because of his father to heartbreaking effect. The anger and raw emotion that comes from Hedge’s performance is very powerful at times and its crazy how many times he evokes LaBeouf as a person through his voice and mannerisms. Within the therapy setting, there’re also some opportunities that come with some great humor that mixes well with the tough breakthroughs that Otis has in being there. What makes Otis’ journey to accepting his pain is how the younger and older version parallel throughout the film and are captured well because of Har’el’s great direction.

While she’s only made documentary prior to “Honey Boy”, she makes a strong impression in her narrative debut with how she connects Otis’ story and LaBeouf’s influence through more visual details. With each connection between past and present, Har’el utilizes background and visual details to make Otis’ recollection of his past more meaningful in the moment. Even the way they walk or interact with people stems with how she crafts the connection between the past and the present. Also, the use of chickens to be a constant reminder of his father and a guide to his path to accepting his past was great and viewers will never forget Henrietta, the world’s first daredevil chicken, for as long as they live.

“Labeouf already won my heart this year with his excellent performance in “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” and with “Honey Boy”, he perfectly breaks it and, yet, makes me love him even more.”

There’re also some references to some of LaBeouf’s films. With the older Otis, his work on a sci-fi film in the film’s opening has to be a reference to “Transformers,” him carrying a young boy through a sewer pipe is definitely a nod to LaBeouf’s appearance in Sia’s music video for Elastic Heart, and there might even be a nod to LaBeouf’s role in “Lawless” with Otis donning a western outfit. Not to mention, the wacky and wild show that Otis works on as a kid definitely show some resemblance to “Even Stevens” and I love how Har’el is able to make these reference seem plausible because of the visual similarities without her directly calling them out.

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After seeing “Honey Boy”, I can actually see why he picked her to direct her story. With her documentary background, Har’el’s no stranger in letting the story speak for itself and it works to great effect here. She’s smart in not feeling the need to add in too much of herself into the film and instead allows LaBeouf’s story to be the driving force of the film. To me, the smartest directors are ones who recognize substance over style and Har’el definitely shows that with “Honey Boy”.

Labeouf already won my heart this year with his excellent performance in “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” and with “Honey Boy”, he perfectly breaks it and, yet, makes me love him even more. He and Har’el definitely have bright futures ahead of them, which will hopefully include some worthy awards recognition.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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