LFF REVIEW: “A sentimental piece about understanding childhood trauma” – ‘Honey Boy’ (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Honey Boy offers something more heartfelt and personal”

When it was first announced Shia LaBeouf was to write and star in a film based around his own childhood experiences growing up within the studio system, I had a feeling something special was about to be created. Previously exploring his own legacy through an art project titled #ALLMYMOVIES in which he spent multiple days with audiences watching his own work, from his most recent efforts to the films that brought him to stardom. While the art project was a success and created memes galore, Honey Boy offers something more heartfelt and personal; a chance for LaBeouf to expel some demons and reflect on his own upbringing.

The film is split in two distinct timelines, both experienced by Otis at different times of his life. We are first introduced to Otis as a grown man, starring in the latest action movies, who gets into a car wreck and is sent to a rehabilitation clinic to avoid jail time. Played by Lucas Hedges, he is resistant to the support the centre offers him, especially when it is suggested that he is suffering from PTSD caused by his experiences as a child. Here the story splits as we see Otis as a man attempting to rehabilitate and understand his pain and the younger Otis (Noah Jupe) as he goes about his day to day life on set.

This trauma Otis is dealing with mostly stems from his experience with his father, James Lort (Shia LaBeouf), a former rodeo clown turned manager who pushes Otis. Their relationship forms the meat of this film in which they battle over who holds the power between them. While James might be the parent in this relationship, he is neglectful of his child and Otis is the one providing for the family. In a heated exchange, Otis says, “You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t pay you” showing just how strained this relationship between father and son has become. Performances from Hedges, Jupe and LaBeouf are all incredibly heartfelt as they open up deep and painful memories for all to see. This feels more than just a simple movie, this is a chance for LaBeouf to grow.

While a lot of praise will be heaped on LaBeouf, an equal amount should be put on director Alma Har’el. She navigates this film between being a sentimental piece about understanding childhood trauma and a prototypical independent film you would find this decade. She frames moments that reflect between Hedges’ and Jupe’s interpretations of the character showing the repetition of the industry. While the dialogue between Otis and his father are sure to garner the most plaudits, it is when Noah Jupe has scenes alone that you can see the isolation that has plagued his childhood. He spends his spare time smoking, vandalising and learning his lines because that’s what he learnt from his Dad as a role model.

While the film is well crafted and passionate, it has this rawness to it. Perhaps it’s the personal connection angle that helps elevate this, knowing that this reflects so closely to LaBeouf’s own experiences as a child actor. Knowing that the words he says are from his own experience in rehab and that when a young Otis says these things to his Dad, it’s LaBeouf hearing his own words back as though he was his father. It would understandably not only be a tough experience for LaBeouf but also his own parents as he attempts to reconcile that relationship in some way. While it paints an unflattering picture of his father, the ending suggests there is a chance for growth and their relationship to become stronger. It’s a touching final moment to the film and a fitting way to end. While some viewers may be left wanting more to be explored in this story by the time the credits roll, the movie leaves us a moment in which it isn’t for us to explore, it’s LaBeouf’s time to do that himself with his own father. We have been a voyeur into his recovery for the last 90 minutes but these final steps he has to take himself.

Dir: Alma Har’el 

Prod: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Christopher Legget, Daniela Taplin Lundberg

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs

Release Date: November 8 2019