Honey Boy

Review by Barry Murphy

Shia LaBeouf has seemingly forever lived his life at a hurtling pace. Even in some of his less acclaimed turns in Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, his darting eyes always seemed to be teetering on the edge of an emotional outburst. His visceral physical output in his infamous Just Do It motivational video and his renegade performance art collaborations are proof of his passion.

Shia LaBeouf portrays a fictionalized version of his own father in Honey Boy.

His latest work, Honey Boy is a stunning self-examination of family, trauma and childhood. So much could have gone wrong with a larger-than-life personality like LaBeouf writing and starring in a film about his own childhood, all whilst playing his own father. However, not for one second of its tight 94 minute run-time does Honey Boy descend into naval-gazing self-indulgence. In this regard, much credit is due to director Alma Har’el, who helms the story with the appropriate amount of distance and intimacy. 

The film introduces us to Otis, a tormented former child star and actor battling with anger management issues and substance abuse.  The film begins with a heady, disorientating montage of an ill-fated night of excess, after which he finds himself in rehab. He is told that he has PTSD. Otis denies the existence of any trauma and the film embarks on an examination of his childhood. The performances are pitch-perfect. Lucas Hedges is the volcanic yet vulnerable present-day Otis, while Noah Jupe gives the younger incarnation of the character a wonderful innocence and malleability. There is a thread that runs through these two performances, and although they have two different faces, they are so believably the same person. Elsewhere, FKA Twigs provides some of the film’s most memorable moments in her silent, ethereal performance as ‘Shy Girl’.

Lucas Hedges is the volcanic yet vulnerable present-day Otis, while Noah Jupe gives the younger incarnation of the character a wonderful innocence and malleability.

Unsurprisingly, it is LaBeouf who is the star of Honey Boy. He pulls no punches in playing his own troubled father – and it is a move of absolute genius.  LaBeouf’s father is a man with subtle nuances that only his own son could truly understand and recreate. He was a man hampered by addiction and haunted by inadequacy who had a burning drive to give his son a shot in life, but with all the wrong ideas as to how.  At times abusive, at times charming, he is a multi-faceted character of immeasurable depth that could only be drawn from real life. It is a career best from LaBeouf. 

Shia LaBeouf has been grossly misunderstood for much of his career, and anyone who sees Honey Boy will realize that he is something to be treasured. It is a touching story of how what we are exposed to in our youth remains with us forever. At just thirty three years old, Shia LaBeouf has found his feet, and is one of the most exciting voices in film.

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