The volatile enigma that is the actor Shia LaBeouf might become a little more sympathetic to audiences of Honey Boy, an autobiographical film directed by Alma Har’el. The movie, written by LaBeouf during a stint in rehab, is an account of LaBeouf’s stormy childhood while he was starring in Even Stevens, a Disney Channel TV show that aired from 2000 to 2003.
While the film is based on LaBeouf’s own life, the narrative follows a young actor named Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe) who acts as a stand in for LaBeouf. The film cuts back and forth between the present day, when Otis is in a court mandated rehab center, and his past living with his abusive father. The movie offers a behind-the-scenes look into the broken home the actor comes from.
Honey Boy’s biggest strength is its acting. Hedges manages to capture both the mannerisms and persona of the LaBeouf that the world is familiar with, while Jupe plays a young Otis, giving a powerful performance that captures Otis’ pain and frustration.
Along with writing the film, LaBeouf also stars in it, playing James Lort, a character modeled after LaBeouf’s own narcissistic and bitter father. LaBeouf spills his guts into the script, showing the audience some of the most traumatic incidences of his childhood. His phenomenal performance is clearly part of the healing process for the actor to work through his past trauma.
The dynamic between James and Otis is a unique one—while the relationship is clearly abusive, the two still care for one another, and Otis relates to his father in more complex ways than simply fearing him. Unlike the abuse that Hollywood typically portrays, Otis doesn’t cower at his father’s every move. This nuance makes the movie all the more engaging and heartbreaking to watch.
LaBeouf is frank in his handling of the subject matter. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that his father had underlying issues and a troubling childhood of his own. This backstory doesn’t justify his abuse, but it helps the audience understand the dysfunctional father-and-son relationship. After all, abusers are known to often have past histories of abuse or trauma themselves.
The score, composed by Alex Somers was incredibly well done and lent itself to the emotional moments of the movie. Cinematographer Natasha Braier also helps capture the dynamics of the relationship and the themes of the movie.
Honey Boy is a short film, clocking in at only 93 minutes of runtime. LaBeouf is entirely focused on telling the story of how his childhood abuse affected him. But, apart from a few shots at the beginning, the film never really touches on how he behaved off-set during his adult career or the abuse he has exhibited in his own relationships. Ultimately, Honey Boy was LaBeouf’s story to tell, and while the narrow focus of the film creates a cohesive narrative, he missed opportunities to address other aspects of his life.
Honey Boy is strikingly raw, but given the subject matter and the context of how and why the movie was written, the film’s strong emotional impact is a given. The tear-inducing film is well-acted and well-written, as it provides audiences with a never-before seen glimpse into the psyche one of Hollywood’s most controversial actors.
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