Film Review – Honey Boy (Second Take)
Honey Boy is a semi-autobiographical film written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el. While the characters’ names are different, it is easily identified as based on Shia LaBeouf’s childhood to becoming a star as a young man and the trouble that created.
Honey Boy begins when Otis is 22 years old (Lucas Hedges) while performing a stunt for a high-budget film (think Transformers). We see Otis’ on-set life and how he spends his leisure time drinking and drugging with his girlfriend Sandra (Maika Monroe). When Sandra and Otis end up in a car accident, Otis winds up in rehab. Through his counseling and exercises in rehab, Otis starts to come to terms with his life and what led him to this debacle. Mirroring the opening stunt, 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) gets a pie thrown in his face, and we are introduced to what happened in Otis’ young life that possibly landed the older Otis in rehab. He has to come to terms with his family life, which was virtually non-existent. His father, James Lort (Shia LaBeouf), is a stage dad, looking after his son in the loosest sense.
Otis and his dad live in a run-down motel in Los Angeles. It’s one tiny room with a mini-fridge and a small bathroom. They live on the pay and per diem of Otis’ kids’ show. It’s not a situation or place that many stage dads or moms would have lived in, but for some reason James thinks it’s okay. A prostitute, Shy Girl (FKA Twigs) lives across from them. The motel’s pool seems to be Otis’s only respite, apart from his Big Brother Tom (Clifton Collins Jr.), who James despises.
This film is therapy for Shia LaBeouf. Quite literally, this film was borne out of a script he wrote while he was in rehab, allowing him to process his childhood and the state of his mental health. LaBeouf plays his dad, coming to terms with who he was and how he attempted to take care of his son. James Lort is a former clown, just like LaBeouf’s dad, as well as being a Vietnam veteran and an alcoholic. The performance by LaBeouf felt like catharsis, making his script come full-circle, completing the therapy.
Noah Jupe, playing a young, semi-fictional version of LaBeouf, is acting opposite of the real-life version of his character. Not many actors can say they have done that, especially at a young age. Jupe plays a boy who loves his father but is acutely aware of his shortcomings and his ability to embarrass him constantly. His father was a performer also, so there is underlying jealousy between James and Otis. His son became more successful than him, and now he is living off his talent. I’m sure Otis did not process all this at the time, doing the best he could to make his father proud. The introduction of a Big Brother to the father-son relationship throws a wrench into the relationship. The fact that Otis, or whoever signed him up for the program, knew that he needed a positive role model in his life, and his father deeply despised it.
Honey Boy is a feat of self-reflection and self-improvement that took one actor’s childhood and downfalls and turned it into art. The film is not for everyone and lacks the excitement or drama that one would expect from a film of this subject. I found myself empathizing with Shia LaBeouf’s childhood, but the film still fell flat for me. While I find Shia LaBeouf’s performance brave and needed for him to process how his father affected him, it is not a film that appeals to the average movie-going audience.