Born in 1986, Shia LaBeouf found fame at young age through stand up comedy and then the Disney Channel. It wasn’t long before Hollywood was beckoning the young LaBeouf. His 2007 hit Disturbia cementing the young actors worldwide fame. The journey to this point was far less glamorous than it may have seemed, and the journey post 2007 into alcohol, criminal activity and drugs nearly destroyed him.
Written by LaBeouf, Honey Boy may have changed the names of its characters, but clearly portrays LaBeouf’s own experience. In a deeply personal trip into his anger, addiction and unique early adolescence of stardom and disconnect with his father. In a film that navigates the challenges of early fame; the demons of addiction and misguided actions of parents living their own dreams through their children.
Honey Boy opens in the midst of explosions and stunts on a 2005 film set. Otis (Lucas Hedges) a young actor whose life is submerged in a bottle of any spirit he can find. His life a whirlwind of anger, frustration and risk that eventually leads him via court to rehab. His hurt and trauma coming from a fractious and challenging relationship with his father. We then track back to 1995 and a young Otis (Noah Jupe) whose career is just taking off. Living in motel rooms with his recovering alcoholic father (Shia LaBeouf); a failed rodeo clown who now chaperones young Otis to studio sessions. The relationship between both father and son at times loving and at times deeply unsettling.
The young Otis striving for a better future, while his father lives out his own failings through his son. The only tenderness in young Otis’ life coming from a young sex worker (FKA Twigs) who is also alone and alienated.
Honey Boy cleverly jumps from younger Otis to older Otis with ease. The anger and pain of the young man coupled with the slowly disintegrating innocence of his younger self. Hedges encapsulating a whole teenage life of anger and pain contained, with alcohol its only escape. While Jupe mixes the wonder of his rising career with a sense of loneliness and segregation that no 12 year old should experience. Both Jupe and Hedges giving performances full of heart and soul, with Jupe in particular steeling every scene he is in. While LaBeouf brings his own father to life in a performance of deep emotional bravery. One that echoes the discomfort of LaBeouf’s lived experience. The hurt and pain of his fathers behaviour etched into every scene alongside Jupe.
The father/son dynamic screams with intensity. Tenderness and misplaced love mixed with volatility, that leaves both father and son in a void of emotional connection. Both lonely, both hurting and both unable to voice their deepest feelings. The success of the boy paying for the life of the dad, in a subverted relationship of support. The dad desperate to live the life he could have had through the success of his son.
Whats truly fascinating in the delivery of Honey Boy are the questions raised about child actors taken into an adult working world. A topic that been discussed copiously over the years. As one child actor after the other has suffered through their early introduction to the Hollywood system. Honey Boy, however, also raises the important subject of the parental support these young actors receive. Support that if unbalanced can lead to their isolation from the normal trappings and experiences of childhood. Their relationships bound to other adults rather than people of their own age. Their whole life becoming an acting role. Their ability to experience any normality limited by their fame and parental pressure to earn more. The only escape door provided by a range of mind altering substances that only deepen the internal crisis.
Alma Har’el’s direction is delicate, encouraging the actors to engage in the emotion of the script, while never allowing things to tip into melodrama. Her eye for documentary filmmaking clearly visible in a film that buzzes with lived experience and emotional connection to the subject matter; bringing out the very best from Jupe, LaBeouf and Hedges. While the beautiful cinematography of Natasha Braier creates an almost dream like landscape. Every scene bathed in the light of dawn or the dusky shadows of night. Symbolising a life lived on the edges of light and darkness for Otis, his own mental state never truly in one or the other.
Honey Boy is a powerful journey into personal experience. A film that never seeks to apportion blame for the problems of later life. Instead Honey Boy unpicks and makes peace with the relationships that led to addiction. Understanding the complexity of young fame, the volatility of alcoholism and the misguided actions of a troubled parent.
Director: Alma Har’el
Cast: Lucas Hedges, Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs
LFF UK Premiere (October 2019) London
Honey Boy is released in UK Cinemas December 2019