Honey Boy is a semi-autobiographical tale written by one of the most provocative actors of his generation. Shia LaBeouf has gone from child actor to blockbuster star, fostered by the likes of Steven Spielberg to appear in mega-franchises and seemingly thrust unprepared into the spotlight. His crash down was extremely public, rife with stories of his alienation with stardom.
Following some critically exceptional roles in indie and international films, LaBeouf’s struggles caught up with him in 2017, resulting in him entering court-ordered rehab to come to terms with his addictions.
LaBeouf channeled his time there into a script, and upon release worked with director Alma Har’el to tell the story of both his recovery and his childhood with his father. Lucas Hedges plays the adult version of the character Otis, and Noah Jupe as the younger version. Each performance is broadly drawn from LaBeouf’s own history. LaBeouf himself plays the father figure, a former rodeo clown and convicted felon being paid to chaperon young Otis.
Performance-wise, this is a master class. Each actor provides deeply rich versions of these characters. LaBeouf in particular loses himself in the role, clearly exorcising deeply held love and anger toward his own father. The storyline is relatively conventional, but Har’el’s decision to crosscut between time periods and her documentary-like lensing leaves it feeling extremely raw and revealing.
The last act of the film follows a particularly aggressive confrontation that feels a little strained, as if the script ran out of solutions for the many problems it articulates. Yet this only partially diminishes the movie, thanks to the strong elements that lead up to the ending.
The movie is sure to generate conversation, particularly about LaBeouf and his own place within the film community. To the immense credit of all involved, this doesn’t feel like a cheap experience of repentance or revisionism, but instead a genuine, self-reflective look at LaBeouf’s personal history. It’s easy to fall for all the true-life trappings of the story. As simple raw drama, it has a tremendous amount to admire.
Honey Boy is remarkable in many ways, starting with LaBeouf’s confident entry into screenwriting. For a project that easily could have been indulgent, we’re treated to a moving and bold film that’s deeply emotional. Har’el gets a terrific performance out of young Jupe, and manages through her craft to draw us into this discomfiting but moving tale.