The rise and fall of Shia LaBeouf has been akin to that of many child actors who found it hard to transition to adulthood. With access to not only the good but mostly the bad elements of fame, these children often succumb to the pitfalls of success. There are people who seem to enjoy witnessing these plunges, especially if the actor seems like a pretentious and intolerable one who takes themselves too seriously.
In Honey Boy, the latest film to star LaBeouf which he also wrote, we’re told a tale of a child actor who is chaperoned by his war veteran father who struggles with his own demons of addiction and indecency. After seeing the trailer a few times I was definitely intrigued by Honey Boy, but it wasn’t until after seeing it that the penny dropped – this was basically a biography of LaBeouf, which provided a lot of context as to how he ended up where he did.
Honey Boy starts with the older version of Otis played by Lucas Hedges, filming an action scene from a movie he’s in. We follow him through a mini montage of him filming scenes and him in his trailer drinking to excess and eventually ending up in a car accident. He‘s promptly arrested and you’d be forgiven for being unsure if this is another scene he’s filming or actually reality.
It ends up being a real event and we are told that it’s the third time this has happened, which lands him in a treatment facility. As he’s going through treatment by talking to his psychologist, played by Laura San Giacomo, the flashbacks to his younger self become the main set-piece of the story.
Young Otis, played impressively by newcomer Noah Jupe, is a child actor who like many child actors has his father to take care of him. You can tell early on that his father James (LaBeouf) isn’t your typical father. Once a performer himself, mostly of the clown variety, he’s mooching on his son’s success.
They ride off on a motorcycle to a local dive motel that houses prostitutes and some of the more seedy elements of society. Otis is crushed between wanting a father figure and love but having to deal with the mental and physical mood swings of his tortured father.
In one poignant scene, Otis is talking with his mother and passing messages to his father who refuses to get on the phone with her. We see that Otis has grown accustomed to this form of argument but it’s a hard scene to watch being a father myself and never wanting my kids to feel the way Otis does.
Honey Boy flips back and forth in time as Hedges’ Otis works through the pain in his numerous facility sessions and recollects his young life falling apart.
At one point young Otis strikes up a relationship with a young girl across the way at the motel played by FKA Twigs, who like Otis is struggling to get by in their crazy world. The scenes they share are very tender and sweet and don’t steer towards anything of a sexual nature. As they embrace and gaze at each other, we see that they’ve found a limited peace and common understanding of their struggles.
Knowing that this is the way LaBeouf may have grown up will certainly pull at the heart strings. It’s hard to imagine anyone surviving this type of childhood unscathed. The issues you inherent from your parents can pray on you for the rest of your life unless you find a mentor or some way to deal with them. Very often people in this situation turn to destructive vices to numb the pain. What must have been a cathartic moment for LaBeouf, he throws himself into this role of playing a version of his father who ultimately I don’t think was an inherently bad person, but more so a victim of a bad upbringing himself. It’s ironic that possibly his most memorable role could end up being this one, one which is so personal.
In one of my favorite of many great scenes, James explains to a group how he struggles with just being a good father but can’t seem to shake the past that follows him around like a dark cloud.
Director Alma Har’el, who I wasn’t familiar with does a very good job in constructing a film I’m sure I‘ll revisit in the years to come. The compelling and touching story connected with me in a way I wasn’t expecting. The acting was uniformly excellent and I for one hope that LaBeouf can make his way back to the positive side of the soul ledger to give us more great performances like the one here. Honey Boy comes highly recommended.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 8/10
Honey Boy is on general theatrical release in the US now.