HONEY BOY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Alma Har’el

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, Laura San Giacomo, FKA Twigs, Clifton Collins jr,.

FKA Twigs and Noah Jupe in Honey Boy (2019)

This semi-autobiographical and introspective story of a troubled relationship between a son and his alcoholic father makes for often raw, honest viewing. The script has been written by actor Shia LaBoeuf (recently seen in The Peanut Butter Falcon), and is based on his own experiences, drawing on his own early years as a child star (tv series Even Stevens) and his subsequent descent into addiction as an adult. He wrote the screenplay in 2017 during a ten week stay in a rehabilitation facility in Georgia.

This is an intensely personal film for LaBeouf, a scrappy but moving memoir about addiction, therapy, insecurity, the price of fame, a complicated father/son dynamic, bad parenting, and rehabilitation. But one suspects that LaBeouf has also taken a few liberties for dramatic purposes.

LaBeouf starred in films like Holes, the big budget special effects heavy Transformers and more serious dramatic roles in Lars Von Trier’s bizarre Nymphomaniac before his public meltdown and his off-screen persona became the subject of curiosity and ridicule.

La Boeuf’s fictional counterpart here is Otis Lort, who as a child actor was the star of a popular television series, and lives with his bitter and abusive father James in a run-down dusty court motel home in California, opposite a bunch of hookers. James is separated from his wife, and is basically reduced to working as Otis’ chaperone, which fuels his resentment, which he often takes out on Otis. But when the adult Otis, now a bona-fide movie star appearing in blockbuster films, is arrested while driving drunk he is sentenced to mandatory rehabilitation. There his counsellor Dr Moreno (Laura San Giacomo) suggests that, as part of his therapy, he writes down his own personal story detailing his fraught relationship with his father, a former rodeo clown and felon.

Otis’ backstory unfolds in a series of extended flashbacks. LaBeouf himself plays his bullying, narcissistic and self-destructive father James, a deeply flawed dead beat character and delivers a superb but physically and emotionally demanding performance given the fact that he is channelling his own father. With his unflattering balding hairstyle and John Lennon glasses, LaBeouf is barely recognisable. Surprisingly, though he seems to empathise with the man who caused him so much pain and left him emotionally scarred and damaged. This is a committed performance from LaBeouf; apparently many of his scenes were delivered in one take because the actor found them so draining.

The fresh faced twelve year old Otis himself is played by the wonderful Noah Jupe (Wonder, etc), and the 22 year old Otis is played by Lucas Hedges (Ben Is Back, Manchester By The Sea, etc) who seems to specialised in these troubled roles. Hedges is good as the troubled star battling his personal demons. Jupe delivers a remarkably mature performance as the younger Otis. Rapper FKA Twigs makes her film debut here playing a young prostitute who lives in the room across the way from Otis and who offers him sympathy and understanding.

Honey Boy, the film’s title comes from the term of endearment used by Otis’ father, is the debut feature film for Israeli-born Alma Har’el, a former director of music videos, who is best known for the documentary Bombay Beach, which won the top prize at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011. She brings sensitivity and compassion to the material. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Natalie Braier (The Neon Demon, etc), who uses dingy lighting and a muted palette for the interiors, which gives them a claustrophobic feel.

While the searing and distinctly unsentimental Honey Boy may have provided LaBeouf with some sort of catharsis, it may not quite hit audiences with the same sort of emotionally wrenching gut punch as he intended.

★★★

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