Published Jan 29, 2019In 2015, child actor turned performance artist Shia LaBeouf spent ten hours watching his own movies at the Angelika Film Center in New York. Hashtagged with #ALLMYMOVIES, it was another punch line in LaBeouf's emergence as a self-serious performance artist (and, to many critics, a fraud).
With Honey Boy, however, he proves that he was right to look at himself all along. The film is a meta addiction dramedy that sees him go into the heart of his own personal trauma, and the result is a cathartic work of art that will likely stand as Shia LaBeouf's masterpiece.
Written as an assignment for a court-assigned rehab stint, LaBeouf has penned a script that serves as actual catharsis, exorcizing the demons of his painful childhood by retelling his own origin story. Thankfully, he had the wisdom to give the director reigns to someone else. It's documentarian Alma Har'el's first narrative feature, and her dizzying, hypnotic camerawork breathes plenty of life into LaBeouf's story.
The film follows two distinct timelines. We start in 1995, where child actor Otis Lort (Noah Jupe) is struggling to get through life on set with his chaperone and deadbeat dad James Lort (LaBeouf, playing his own dad). Running parallel to that narrative is Otis in 2005 (played by Lucas Hedges), prone to bursts of anger and binge-drinking. After losing a finger in a drunken car wreck (just like the real Shia), he's ordered to go to rehab, where he begins to unpack his painful relationship with his father.
These three actors get to the core of Shia's deeply personal tale, and though none of them really look alike, they manage to carry an emotionally potent story thanks to their acting expertise. LaBeouf completely loses himself in the role of his father, channelling rage and whimpering defeat in a way that could only be done if he had lived it. Hedges and Jupe, meanwhile, manage to arrive at the same approximation of Shia LaBeouf without ever doing an impression.
Admittedly, the film could have used stronger female characters. Lort's absent mother only appears as a voice on a telephone (it's Natasha Lyonne) and FKA Twigs' character, a sex worker who comforts young Otis and arguably crosses the line with him, feels particularly underwritten.
But these might be unfair criticisms for a story this personal. After all, Honey Boy is Shia's story. In going to the depths of his own personal pain, he's uncovered a beautifully intimate portrayal of cyclical brokenness and generational wounds. It's the sort of catharsis that leads to inner healing. Even LaBeouf has said he's started talking to his dad again after six or seven years since making this film. (Automatik)