Film Review – Honey Boy
The perils of child stardom is the subject of any number of tabloid magazines and clickbait listicles. Morbid curiosity seekers can’t help but be fascinated when they learn their former favorite Disney icon gets a DUI or has to take a job at The Gap to make ends meet. Transitioning successfully from childhood to adulthood fame is rare, and it’s not hard to understand why. On-set tutelage and helicopter parenting, seclusion from peers outside the industry.
Alma Har’el‘s feature fiction(ish) debut Honey Boy, penned by Hollywood wild child Shia LaBeouf, puts a magnifying glass up to the barbarism of young fame and sets it ablaze.
Reportedly written while in court-ordered rehabilitation, LaBeouf turns in a devastatingly therapeutic (and suspectedly VERY autobiographical) script, and gives us a truly heart-wrenching peek into his past. I don’t know if he was looking for a sort of forgiveness for his sordid off-screen behavior, but it does give us a pretty good look into how he got there.
Honey Boy begins in 2005, with 22 year old Shia stand-in Otis (Lucas Hedges) on the set of a very Transformers-like blockbuster. The palpable boredom of the cast and crew between takes reminds us that, in many ways, this is just another job.
We then get a hectic montage of recklessness that might be exhilarating if it weren’t so fiercely sad. Otis goes on a bender that leads to a harrowing car crash and ultimately to rehab. He’s required to see a therapist (Laura San Giacomo) and begins telling his story. Flashbacks to 1995, when 12 year old Otis (Noah Jupe) is a burgeoning child star (hello Even Stevens), wisely comprise the bulk of the film, as it provides LaBeouf the role of a lifetime: his own father.
A failed rodeo clown now 4 years sober (which he’ll be quick to remind you), Otis’ dad obnoxiously ingratiates himself into every aspect of his son’s life and career. Despite the presumably plump paychecks the sitcom brings in, they hole up in scuzzy hotels to go over scripts and chain smoke.
James is clearly resentful of his son’s success, feeling he was dealt a crappy hand in life and refusing to acknowledge his part in how it became that way. A weary relationship forms between young Otis and an older hotel neighbor (FKA Twigs), providing him an outlet of sorts when his dad’s anger gets out of hand.
Alma Har’el’s direction is tastefully muted, allowing the impressive performances to take center stage. I wouldn’t have minded a few more scenes in the 2005 timeline but Hedges brings it as always, nailing the inner anguish of a child scorned. Jupe is outstanding as 1995 Otis, vulnerable but also willing to go toe-to-toe with his father when he tries to take him down.
The true showcase, though, is LaBeouf. Tapping into his own childhood this way is undoubtedly brave, and his portrayal of his father is mildly sympathetic in its own way.
At a point late in the movie Otis tells his dad he’s going to make a movie about of him someday and I can’t help but wonder what he thinks about it. One only hopes it could lead to a new start.