Honey Boy Review
As a cathartic exercise, 'Honey Boy' works well. As a movie, not so much.
Release Date: November 22, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
A young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health.
Director: Alma Har’el
Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf
Producers: Anita Gou, Alma Har’el, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Chris Leggett, Daniela Taplin Lundberg
Cast: Shia LaBeouf (James Lort), Lucas Hedges (Otis at 22), Noah Jupe (Otis at 12), Laura San Giacomo (Dr. Moreno), FKA Twigs (Shy Girl), Natasha Lyonne (Mom), Maika Monroe (Sandra), Byron Powers (Percy)
Editors: Dominic LaPerriere, Monica Salazar
Cinematographer: Natasha Braier
Production Designer: Jc Molina
Casting Directors: Chelsea Ellis Bloch, John Papsidera, Jennifer Venditti
Music Score: Alex Somers
Shia LaBeouf gets a bad rap in Hollywood. Sure, he’s done time in Transformers movies and bared it all in Nymphomaniac, but when he gets a role that’s right for him, like in Fury or Lawless, he’s on his game. Like many child stars, he’s had his share of off-screen turmoil. In Honey Boy, his feature length screenwriting debut, LaBeouf dives into what may be the root of these troubles.
Based on LaBeouf’s own experiences as a child star, Honey Boy is about a young actor named Otis Lort (Noah Jupe from A Quiet Place and Wonder) who is growing up on the sets of movie and television productions under the watchful-yet-neglectful eye of his abusive adict father, James (LaBeouf). Ten years later, the young adult Otis (Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges) uses therapy and recovery to sort out his past and reconcile with his dad.
Honey Boy began as a therapy exercise for LaBeouf, who was asked to write about his childhood in order to come to terms with his past. And that’s pretty much what Honey Boy feels like. It’s cathartic for LaBeouf to release all of his feelings about his father, and even more poignant for him to try and get into the man’s head by playing him onscreen. But as a movie, it’s a long-winded glimpse at the typical abuse that takes place in the Hollywood world of child actors.
Director Alma Har’el, best known for her documentary works Bombay Beach and LoveTrue, does her best with the material, crafting a movie that is simultaneously dreamlike and all too real. Although dad James is the antagonist of the picture, he is painted in a somewhat sympathetic light, with Otis often having to play the parent to his father’s childlike behavior. Between the depictions of James’ demons being behind his treatment of his son and the constant movie set life that populates Otis’ childhood, there’s a blurred line between what’s real and what’s not in Honey Boy. And frankly, that’s the most interest aspect of the movie – the trying to figure out what is actually happening versus what is make believe.
Honey Boy is a highly personal film for Shia LaBeouf, and as a way of coming to terms with his history and learning about himself, it’s admirable. But for the standard viewer who has no vested interest in the events of the film, it’s just a re-enactment of an “E! True Hollywood Story” documentary. Except that a documentary narrative approach would have been a more interesting movie.