Honey Boy – childhood fame and the misguided support of a troubled parent

Honey Boy is now available to rent, buy or stream.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shia LaBeouf found fame at a young age, first through stand-up comedy before moving on to become a Disney kid. However, it wasn’t until 2007 and Disturbia that LaBeouf’s popularity would see him rise to the role of a global teen idol. 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. 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. Otis (Lucas Hedges) is a leading man whose life is dictated by a bottle of any spirit he can find – his emotions a whirlwind of anger, frustration and risk that eventually lead him to rehab; there, Otis’ internal hurt and trauma surface as he considers the fractious and challenging relationship with his father as we are taken back to 1995, where young Otis (Noah Jupe) sits on the brink of stardom. Otis lives in a motel room with his recovering alcoholic father (Shia LaBeouf), who is at times loving but often volatile, their relationship fractured by fame. Here, young Otis desperately searches for a better future while his father lives out his failures through his son.

In navigating the journey of the boy and the young man, Honey Boy explores the building blocks of addiction and the silent turmoil that rages in many people due to the fractured relationships of their youth. Hedges beautifully explores a life of contained rage and discomfort, while Jupe reflects on the loneliness and segregation of early fame and the need for love, care and attention. Meanwhile, LaBeouf bravely brings his own father to life on screen with a performance wrapped in the discomfort of his lived experience. But the assured performance of young Noah Jupe makes this film tick. Jupe brings a level of emotional intelligence to young Otis that is way beyond his years, and as a result, he announces his arrival as “one to watch” on the Hollywood stage.

The father/son dynamic of Honey Boy is intense and volatile, yet tender. Here, both the father and son are lonely, hurting, and unable to voice their deepest feelings, with the boy paying for the life of the dad in a twisted relationship of support. However, it is within its discussions on early fame that Honey Boy excels. Honey Boy isn’t afraid to unpick themes of parental influence, wealth creation, and long-dead dreams lived through a child’s eyes. This is a movie that demonstrates the isolation of fame in youth as child actors are forced to 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 deepening the internal crisis as they journey from child to teen and then adult.

Alma Har’el’s delicate yet assured direction and her eye for documentary filmmaking are visible throughout Honey Boy, while Natasha Braier’s beautiful cinematography imbues the film with haunting visuals depicting captivity and dream-like escape as young Otis navigates a new world. The result is a powerful psychological appraisal of the effects of childhood fame, the danger of parental longing lived through a child and the urgent need to find closure.


Director:  Alma Har’el

Cast: Shia LaBeoufLucas HedgesNoah Jupe

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