Shia LaBeouf found fame at a young age, first through stand up comedy before then moving on to become a Disney kid. However, it wasn’t until 2007 and Disturbia that LaBeouf’s popularity would see him rise to a global teen idol position. But just like the many child actors who came before him, LaBeouf’s journey to this point was far from glamourous as he battled with alcohol, anger and internal despair. Written by LaBeouf, Honey Boy may have changed the names of its characters, but this is, in essence, an autobiographical exploration of LaBeouf’s youth as we explore themes of anger, addiction and parental influence. Here Honey Boy explores the challenges of fame at an early age, the demons of addiction and the misguided actions of parents who live out their dreams through their children.
The film opens amid the explosions and stunts of a 2005 film set. Here Otis (Lucas Hedges) is a leading man whose life is submerged in a bottle of any spirit he can find. His whole existence, a whirlwind of anger, frustration and risk that eventually leads him to rehab. While in rehab, Otis’ internal hurt and trauma slowly surface as he considers the fractious and challenging relationship he had with his father.
READ MORE: THE KING
We are then taken back to 1995, where young Otis (Noah Jupe) sits on the brink of stardom. However, Otis’ life is far from perfect as he lives in motel rooms with his recovering alcoholic father (Shia LaBeouf). His father’s career is in tatters as a failed rodeo clown who now chaperones young Otis to and from his studio sessions. The relationship between both father and son, loving, unsettling and fractured. Here Young Otis desperately searches for a better future while his father lives out his failures through his son. The only tenderness and care in Otis’ life, coming from a sex worker (FKA Twigs) who is also alone and alienated.
In navigating the journey of the boy and the young man, Honey Boy beautifully explores the building blocks of addiction and pain. Here Hedges encapsulates a life of contained rage and discomfort, while Jupe reflects the loneliness and segregation of early fame. Meanwhile, LaBeouf bravely brings his own father to life on screen with a performance wrapped in the discomfort of his lived experience. Here the father/son dynamic of Honey Boy screams with both intensity, tenderness and emotion. Both lonely, both hurting and unable to voice their deepest feelings – the success of the boy paying for the man’s life, in a subverted relationship of support.
READ MORE: JOJO RABBIT
However, within its discussions on early fame and parental support, Honey Boy excels. Here Honey Boy is embedded in themes of parental influence, wealth creation and adult dreams. As a result, Honey Boy demonstrates the alienation of fame in youth as child actors forge relationships with adults rather than peers. The divide between their lives and their roles, becoming smaller and smaller. Here the only escape door available is the use of mind-altering substances, each of which only deepens the internal crisis as they journey from child to teen and then adult.
What makes Honey Boy stand out as a potential award-winning movie is Alma Har’el’s delicate yet assured direction. Her eye for documentary filmmaking, visible from the start in a film that is alive with personal experience and emotion. At the same time, Natasha Braier’s beautiful cinematography creates a dreamlike landscape, with every scene bathed in colour. Here Braier’s visual palette symbolises a life lived on the very edge of light and dark for young Otis. And that brings us to Noah Jupe, who is not only outstanding as young Otis but is a revelation in the depth he displays throughout. Here, Jupe demonstrates his acting ability and shoots for the stars in the emotional intelligence he brings to the role.
Director: Alma Har’el