Usually when walking out of a movie, you have a general sense how you are supposed to feel. Walking out of an epic adventure, you might feel elated and have adrenaline rushing through you. Or if you see a rom-com, you may walk away with a feeling of comfort and “the warm fuzzies.” Coming out of Honey Boy, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel and in that sense I think the film succeeds in what it sets out to do.
Honey Boy, directed by relative newcomer Alma Har’el, is a meta drama focusing on a young actor named Otis, going through court order rehab. Otis, a stand-in for screenwriter Shia Labeouf, is coming to grips with the PTSD he suffered as a child at the hands of his father, played by Labeouf. So, naturally as it sounds, the line between reality and the screen seems to be nonexistent as Labeouf is essentially writing a movie about himself. As narcissistic as that sounds on paper, the end result is far from it. The film is so brutally honest not only in its portrayal of Otis/Shia’s father, but also in Otis/Shia himself. For those that have followed the actors well publicized misadventures over the years, the drunken car accident and getting arrested, the film doesn’t gloss over these elements or try to excuse those behaviors in the slightest. Rather they are used as catalysts for why the character of Otis, and by extension Shia Labeouf himself, needed a change in his life and to begin to find healing.
The film splits time between the present and the past, paralling Otis’s present pains with pains he experienced as a child. While both performers playing Otis, Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe, are excellent Noah Jupe is spectacular as the younger version of Otis. Jupe, making a name for himself in films like A Quiet Place and Ford v Ferrari, shines as the conflicted youngster that wants to give his father the benefit of the doubt when he can but also realizes the harm his father is causing him. Opposite the real Labeouf as his father, Jupe brings a raw emotion and complexity not often seen in actors his age. He more than holds his own in every scene he is in and is absolutely a name to keep an eye out for in the coming years.
However, the real standout performance of the film and one that deserves recognition come awards season is that of Labeouf himself. Shia completely disappears in the role and is almost unrecognizable from any of his previous performances. At no point in the film do you feel sympathy for his character but as the film progresses you get a sense of why he is the way he is and how that carries on to the next generation. It’s a fascinating scene whenever Labeouf and Jupe get in a fight as in a sense it is Labeouf screaming at himself through the medium of film. While this may sound self serving and a cry for attention, it comes across more in the film as a genuine attempt at bettering himself and trying to come to some form of reconciliation.
Labeouf, who quietly has put in some great performances this year with this and Peanut Butter Falcon, has been out of mainstream movies for a while and been somewhat relegated to internet spoofing and mockery. However, this film seems to show that his time away from the spotlight has been used as a time of healing and trying to figure himself out. While many will still say he has a long way to go to fully reach maturity, his rehab process does not seem to have gone to waste. Labeouf seemingly is on the upswing and may slowly but surely be starting his own redemption story in the same vein as other actors like Robert Downey Jr. As a fan of the underdog and a good comeback story, this was a step in the right direction for Labeouf and I look forward to what he does next.