Review: Honey Boy (2019)


Honey Boy (2019)

Directed by: Alma Harel | 94 minutes | drama | Actors: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, Byron Bowers, Laura San Giacomo, FKA Twigs, Natasha Lyonne, Maika Monroe, Clifton Collins Jr., Mario Ponce, Martin Starr

Sometimes you have to go through deep valleys to be able to climb high peaks. Shia LaBeouf can talk about it. Addiction, public intoxication, public misconduct and accusations of plagiarism did little to his reputation. And then there’s his ‘experimental’ phase in which he walked the red carpet at the Berlin Film Festival as performance art with a paper bag over his head with the text ‘I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE’ on it. Later that year – we’re talking 2014 – as part of his art project #IAMSORRY, he spent six days staring at visitors at a Los Angeles gallery with tears in his eyes. He also livestreamed his reaction to his own complete filmography, which he played in reverse order. Had LaBeouf gone completely mad, was this yet another cry for attention from a twisted narcissist or was it part of a coping process? Anyone who sees ‘Honey Boy’ (2019) will suspect that the latter is going on. During a stay in a rehab clinic, LaBeouf was instructed to write down his own childhood experiences as a therapy. In particular, the abusive relationship with his father has largely shaped him into the person he is today. Would it also be part of the coping process that LaBeouf takes on the role of his father in the film adaptation of the autobiographical ‘Honey Boy’?

Directed by Israeli-American documentary filmmaker Alma Ha’rel, making her feature film debut, ‘Honey Boy’ is a sensitive, lively and honest portrait of the troubled childhood of a child star, and the destructive impact of that upbringing as a child. mature. Ha’rel makes use of leaps in time and, despite the heaviness of the seriously disrupted family ties, still manages to put a warmth and poetry in her film by focusing on certain details, or by clever use of light and colors. to go. We meet Otis in his twenties (Lucas Hedges), an actor on the set of an action movie (a big nod to ‘Transformers’, the film series that made LaBeouf a star). Not long after, he causes a car accident and is admitted to rehab, where his therapist suggests that he may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

From that moment on, we jump back in time to the time when twelve-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) lives in a shadowy motel with his father James (Shia LaBeouf himself). Where child star Otis already has a glittering career, James is one of the ‘twelve cities, thirteen crafts’ type. As a manager, he drags his child from set to set, but in the meantime he manipulates and ravages the boy wherever he can. This ranges from mocking him because of the size of his gender to making it impossible for him to study his text and even physical violence is not shunned. James, a former Vietnam veteran with a love-hate relationship with alcohol, is jealous of his son and deeply frustrated at his dependence on his child’s success.

With his beer-bellied, matted neck and receding front hairline and his clunky, sometimes racist demeanor, James looks like a caricature, but although LaBeouf seemed to live with his head in the clouds for a few years, he is his luckily didn’t lose talent. We already saw in ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ (2019) that the raw intensity with which he plays his roles can make him rise above a movie. Here he manages to condense James’ self-loathing, insecurity and neediness into a character of flesh and blood, of whom we also get a glimpse of why he can be so heartlessly mean. At some point you even feel a kind of pity for him, especially because between all the swearing cannonades, signs of fatherly love also resound. Partly because of this, you also understand why Otis, despite his justified feelings of hatred and fear for his father, desperately longs for his love and approval. Besides LaBeouf, Hedges and especially the young Jupe are doing great. Ha’rel makes him the heart of the film, which is beautifully reflected in a scene where young Otis rehearses his film dialogue and imagines James uttering the much sweeter, fictional father’s lyrics from the film he’s rehearsing for. .

‘Honey Boy’ is at its best in the interaction between father and son, which lays out the difficult relationship in loose sketches. Everything about it, including Otis’ blossoming friendship (or even more?) with a prostitute (FKA Twigs) who also lives in the motel, feels like an unnecessary distraction from the emotional core. If we’re really honest, that even applies to the flashforwards to the older Otis in rehab, but thanks to Hedges’ acting, those scenes still stand. Ha’rel cleverly manages to find the balance between raw emotion and warm, poetic details. Her film keeps a fast pace and unfortunately takes too little time to step on the brakes at the right moment for a moment of reflection. LaBeouf deserves a compliment for his very first script, in which he dares to show a rare vulnerability; There really isn’t a better way to explain his erratic behavior. Let’s hope the focus is now back on his undeniable talents instead of his curious craziness!

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