Honey Boy just tells us one story, with judgement and compassion, with an honesty that surprises and moves us. And it leaves it to us to decide if it was all worth it, if indeed the end justifies the means. You will never look at a child’s performance in a film or TV show the same way after this.
Shia LaBeouf wrote the script, and based it on his own childhood. This means he is, in essence, playing his own father. The performance is so good, so in-the-trenches, it feels like it's an act of channeling rather than mimicry or even imitation.
The beautiful surprise of Honey Boy is it never feels like LaBeouf revels in the chance to put the spotlight on himself. He wrote the film while in rehab and every moment of the movie feels like an artist in search of a desperately craved and needed catharsis.
Honey Boy is a dolorous example of an alarming trend in modern movies — the miraculous ability of an infinitesimal talent to raise money for an obnoxious, self-indulgent film about his own life designed to appeal to absolutely nobody except the arrogant subject himself. In this instance, the jerky centerpiece in love with himself to the detriment of everyone in the audience is Shia LaBeouf.
The keystone, nay, the crown jewel in modern society's long-standing obsession with the borderline mythic construct of what we all consider Shia LaBeouf to be. Devoted performance artist to the very end, psychologically unwell egomaniac, or an honest to God broken human being looking to figure himself out just like the rest of us -- whatever your opinion of the man is, "Honey Boy" will work as something of a companion piece to it. More importantly, though, it's a deeply upsetting and impactful portrayal of a bankrupt relationship between a father and his son, and the litany of morally perverse push/pull mechanisms layered therein, featuring a revelatory, career-best performance from the true-to-life subject at the center of everything -- LaBeouf himself. Taking on the role of the complex and layered quasi-tormentor that inflicted so much intentional and unintentional damage upon him throughout his own childhood, some may call this the ultimate act of self-indulgence on the part of LaBeouf. I simply see it as someone desperately trying to sort through their past, so as to construct some semblance of a better future. Add in some stark camerawork and imagery from narrative filmmaking newcomer Alma Har'el and you have one of the year's most metaphysically gratifying, emotionally gripping character studies. To be quite honest, I'd even venture to call it a masterpiece.
Honey Boy’s Got Some Daddy Issues
The Stream: Too self-referential for its own good.
The Big Screen: Great chemistry between the two lead actors.
The Final Bill: Almost like reading someone’s diary that you don’t really care about – intriguing but unsatisfying.
First, I was tempted to title this review “Honey Boy Don’t Care,” but Honey Boy do care.
Yes, friends, we saw “the Shia LaBeouf movie”, Honey Boy, this weekend. It has been marketed as “the Shia LaBeouf movie”, and it plays like that in more than one way. Honey Boy is a fictionalized account of the life of the former child star struggling in rehab and his memory of working as a 12-year-old and being chaperoned by his unreliable, abusive, felon and recovering addict father. The film was written by LaBeouf through his most recent rehab stay; and it is directed by Alma Har’el. Necessarily, there is a metafictional aspect to the plot, and it becomes too self-referential for its own good.
Honey Boy sets the main character, played by Lucas Hedges, off on his destructive road to the rehab that will force him to deal with the effects of his time with his father. Hedges plays the 22-year-old LaBeouf surrogate named Otis that leads us to the meat of the movie. Noah Jupe plays the 12-year-old Otis, and LaBeouf, himself, plays the fictionalized version of his own father named James. Setting aside all of the self-referential, self-consciously, metafictional stuff, Jupe and LaBeouf are fantastic together. Jupe is heartbreaking in the role, at once loving and fearing his father. The relationship between father and son is fraught and heavy – each scene between the two is electric. LaBeouf is mesmerizing both because his portrayal is great, but also, because you know he’s channeling the character from real life experience. He expresses the damage, rage and empathy he must have been able to find in his father.
Now, what makes LaBeouf’s performance so good is also what makes some of the movie feel empty. The Lucas Hedges parts are supposed to be the raw portrayal of the consequences of the Jupe/LaBeouf parts of the film, but they fall flat. You always want more of Jupe and LaBeouf as their characters playing off each other. Hedges’ portray is one note and his rehab scenes aren’t particularly interesting.
There are some great sequences aside from that. The direction of Alma Har’el shows that she cares about all these characters. FKA Twigs has a special part that leads to a cool scene between her and Jupe. They’re just filled with innocence and fun. It very tender.
Honey Boy plays best when it’s just grappling with the tension between the demons of the father and the needs of the son. It is difficult to put aside the specter of Shia LaBeouf when he’s front-and-center for much of the movie, but that somehow seems to mostly affect the parts concerning the 22-year-old. If you don’t care about his journey in rehab, then those parts of the movie just don’t work. While I think that Honey Boy is a good movie particularly because of Shia LaBeouf and Noah Jupe, a trip to the theater isn’t warranted.
Honey Boy is guided by LaBeouf’s cathartic script and humanized by Jupe’s magnificent, touching performance and the way he brings nuance and heart to this role of a 12-year-old asking for the unspoken affection of his father. LaBeouf’s vision of his pain and healing is indispensable, quietly crafted through the moments when both Otis and his father are at odds. It’s this heartbreaking dynamic which renders it raw. Again, delicate to revisit, but its mere existence feels like a necessary gift to film.