This article was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Pagan Carruthers.
Honey Boy (2019)
Director: Alma Har’el
Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs
To Honey Boy, with love.
On paper Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy might not have worked. The semi-autobiographical film, written by and starring Shia LaBeouf, and chronicling his childhood and ten week court ordered rehab stint, could easily have come across as a self-indulgent, suffocating and privileged art piece. What we are presented with however, is LaBeouf’s passionate search for psychological relief, and a picture that seeks to cathartically heal the audience at the same time as the actor-screenwriter himself.
Honey Boy jumps between two timelines and two talented performers in the role of Otis; the reliable Lucas Hedges as the modern day LaBeouf we are now familiar with seeing struggle in the public eye, and Noah Jupe as 12-year-old Otis who divides his time between film sets and a dingy motor apartment. Hedges’ (Manchester By The Sea; Ben Is Back; Boy Erased) has quickly become known as a Hollywood go-to for dark, dramatic roles, and he doesn’t disappoint here, the gravitas of his performance leaning into the darker elements of the character and elevating the material. Elder Otis’ storyline also provides some much needed comic relief through his interaction with Percy (Byron Bowers), his rehabilitation roommate, but it is Jupe’s performance that carries the heaviest weight, and his scenes with LaBeouf, who plays a lightly fictionalised version of LaBeouf’s father, are the film’s most affecting.
LaBeouf’s irrepressible performance as James, a Veteran soldier and former rodeo crown struggling with, but also surviving because of, his son’s success is also staggering. His scene’s with Jupe are magnetic; with James’ erratic quick temper flaring one moment and light-hearted playfulness soaring the next. James’ struggle with addition is dealt with empathy through LaBeouf’s depiction, as young Otis accompanies him to AA meetings and watches him push away a mentor from the Big Brother programme, his only stable caregiver.
As the scene’s bounce between elder Otis’s rehab and the shabby home of young Otis, director Har’el’s experience in documentary filmmaking comes through with handheld shooting and an observant stance. The rich, warm colourings and daydreaming stylisation of scenes will surely draw comparison’s to LaBeouf’s 2016 film American Honey (directed by Andrea Arnold) as cinematographer Natasha Braier captures the searing Los Angeles landscape.
The film’s biggest accomplishments are its sensitive portrayal of addiction and the exceptional performances from the three main leads, but it does falter slightly in the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl stock character of FKA Twigs’ Shy Girl, a sex-worker and neighbour to Jupe’s young Otis. Her storyline is not explored deeply enough, or resolved, and feels as uneasy as it does unnecessary.
Nevertheless, LaBeouf’s captivating story and Har’el’s direction make Honey Boy an intimate and self-reflective success. The vulnerability and openness of the script walks a fine line with the meta component to give way to a sensitive and moving, albeit not new, storyline of a troubled father and son relationship.
This film is a moving reflection, perhaps even an exorcism, of LaBeouf’s relationship with his parent, but also one that may have viewers contemplating their own.
Written by Pagan Carruthers
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