This story about a young Shia LaBeouf, starring an old Shia LaBeouf, is the most authentic Shia LaBeouf story you'll ever see...as it should be, since the screenplay of "Honey Boy" was written by...you guessed it...Shia LaBeouf.
Shia LaBeouf has had a tumultuous time in the spotlight since becoming a child star sensation. He grew into Hollywood leading man status for a brief moment (he was at one point expected to take over for Harrison Ford as the star of the "Indiana Jones" franchise) until his off-camera shenanigans led him down the path of more of an indie rebel. It's not uncommon that a child star would exploited, abused and pushed beyond all normal measures, or that they would end up living difficult lives growing up in such abnormal circumstances. What is rare, is that a child star would so frankly share their experiences - with rawness, brutality and grace - as Shia LaBeouf does in "Honey Boy."
Written by LaBeouf and based on his life growing up in Hollywood (and directed by feature-film first-timer, Alma Har'el), we get to understand what makes this eccentric, odd actor tick. Portrayed in the film as Lucas Hedges as a twenty-something-year-old and by Noah Jupe at age 12, the film tells two parallel stories, and fictionalizes the names. Otis (Hedges) is in rehab following a terrible accident, and is forced to confront the PTSD symptoms he's displaying, cartloads of emotional baggage he's carried since his youth. Young Otis (Jupe) is a child of divorce, and his mentally and sometimes physically abusive manager/father James inflicts irreversible damage on the young star. The meta-twist of the film is that the father - an alcoholic former rodeo clown - is played by none other than Shia LeBeouf, and his closeness to the material is palpable, and allows him to give one of his career-best performances.
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While the movie is very personal and focused in on this one boy's life, it also speaks to a larger, very relatable issue: Our inability to escape our own childhoods and upbringings. We all - whether we want to admit it or not - are shaped by our parents, their presence or their absence, the love they gave or didn't give. "Honey Boy" makes us confront our own pasts, so the result ends up feeling a bit uncomfortable.
As a narrative, the "flashback" gimmick doesn't work as well as it should. While Hedges gives a brilliant performance that is recognizably "LeBeouf," the film becomes a bit uneven when the flashbacks seem to focus more on the father than the young child. It's effective, without ever landing as something more.
"Honey Boy" is the best LeBeouf has done as an actor and now a writer, but you can tell even from watching this that he seems to be a deeply affected man who continues to battle demons. We now may have a bit more understanding about why he is who is, and this film may very well be LeBeouf's personal therapy, but it doesn't exactly give us any hope...which makes "Honey Boy" a very harrowing movie to experience.
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes.
Written by Shia LaBeouf.
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKY Twigs, Natasha Lyonne.
Directed by Alma Har'el (feature-film directorial debut).
"Honey Boy" opens in limited-release on Friday, November 29th, 2019.
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