Honey Boy Review
Shia LaBeouf gives an outstanding performance as he takes on the task of playing a version of his own father in a raw exploration into their complex relationship during LaBeouf’s childhood.
Following his fantastic work in his role in The Peanut Butter Falcon, Shia LaBeouf is back for his second film of 2019, but this time with Honey Boy – a deeply personal and, arguably, therapeutic piece – which was written by LaBeouf himself. Directed by Alma Har’el (Love True), the movie is based around Shia LaBeouf’s life and more specifically, his relationship with his father as a child and how it affected him in later life.
The film channels LaBeouf’s life experiences through the character Otis, who we meet at the beginning of the film as an actor in his 20s. Opening with a montage - featuring Missy Elliot’s "My Struggles" - of Otis (Lucas Hedges) on set (working on a Transformers-like movie) and during his free time, drinking, hooking up with women and partying. But the party finishes early when he is arrested for driving under the influence and is sent to rehab. As Otis undergoes therapy for his addictions and behaviour issues, his counsellor Dr. Moreno (Laura San Giacomo), tells Otis that she believes he has PTSD, to which he angrily dismisses as he replies – ‘no I don’t’.
What follows is a slow-motion shot of a 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) getting pelted in the face with a pie at full force. But unfortunately, getting pied in the face is the least of Otis’ troubles. Developing his career as a young actor, Otis lives with his father, James Lort (Shia LaBeouf), who is a former alcoholic and has taken on the role being his son’s ‘manager’. Otis supports his family financially and while James encourages his aspirations as an actor, underneath the surface there is a sense of bubbling jealousy, anger and regret about his own life that he projects onto his son, causing their relationship to suffer. Following a non-linear structure, the film jumps backwards and forwards between Otis as an adult and a child, providing a fascinating, emotional journey exploring the relationship between a father and his son and how this drastically impacted the rest of Otis’ life.
What sets Honey Boy aside from other films released this year is the fantastic, sincere and deeply humane performances from its cast members. Supported by a stellar script which felt raw and honest while remaining engaging throughout, LaBeouf, Jupe and Hedges all gave equally impressive performances. In fact, the scenes between Noah Jupe and Shia LaBeouf were so convincing, it almost felt like you were watching some sort of cathartic role play (which it may very well have been for LaBeouf).
The relationship portrayed between James Lort and his son is so complex and there are so many different elements to it, but thankfully LaBeouf and Jupe managed to communicate this very well. James tries to act like whatever he does and the way he acts towards his son is to benefit Otis’ career, insisting his devotion by saying, ‘I’m your cheerleader honey boy’. But despite the sincerity of this statement and some genuine heartfelt moments with his son, his issues with addiction, anger and regret surrounding his own unfulfilled life goals, override his ability to be the father his son needs, which is extremely emotional to watch. Throughout the film, even though James makes many mistakes as a father, you root for him because you know he wants to do the right thing and could be capable of going down the right path, and Shia LaBeouf does an incredible job of displaying these different layers of James’ character.
Noah Jupe gives an amazing performance and his emotional range as a young actor is extremely impressive. Successfully communicating the weight Otis must carry throughout the movie, he portrays a character who is painfully aware of his father’s shortcomings and manipulative tendencies. However, despite James’ outbursts, verbal and at times physical abuse towards his son, Otis still believes that James can be a better father and communicates this to him plainly by stating, ‘I want you to be a better Dad to me’. Otis continuously craves for sufficient love and support from his dad and no matter how many times he is let down, his belief in James’ ability to improve never falters.
This is a character driven film and due to this, sometimes the plot does suffer. Several sequences felt a bit repetitive and there were a few too many montages throughout the film which seemed to just be there for filler. The majority of scenes take place in Otis and James’ motel where they live and it may have been interesting to see more of Otis’ experiences on set as a child actor. However, the film provides enough interesting interactions between its characters and the characters have enough depth that the dwindling plot doesn’t matter so much.
From putting his experiences as a child out in the open, to taking on the role of his own father, this was an incredibly brave project for Shia LaBeouf to tackle. Without villainising James, Honey Boy manages to explore how his pained relationship with his son had long lasting effects. This is a story that many will be able to relate to and demonstrates the power of art as a form of therapy.