The renaissance of Shia LaBeouf continues. Once a child star turned leading man in Michael Bay’s never-ending ‘Transformers’ series (his performances being the only highlight), to his brief stint as the successor of the Indiana Jones franchise. LaBeouf appeared to be Hollywood’s man until he rebelled against it all, Hollywood’s new King was very quickly dethroned. However during this period his performances in films such as ‘Lawless’ and ‘The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman’ heavily implied that maybe he wasn’t meant to be fighting evil robots or swinging on vines with CGI monkeys. More recently he’s had far more interesting roles in films such as David Ayer’s ‘Fury’, Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ films, Andrea Arnold’s ‘American Honey’ and his most recent success in ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’. Now LaBeouf has turned his attention to writing and in the process has created a deeply personal and intimate story of self-reflection, catharsis and forgiveness. Directed by Alma Har’el, in her feature debut, ‘Honey Boy’ follows a young actor in his childhood and young adult years as he attempts to reconcile his relationship with his father and work through struggles with his mental health.
‘Honey Boy’ weaves between two timelines following young actor and then leading man Otis at ages 12 and 22. At age 12 Otis is an emerging child actor at the beginning of his career and at the same time dealing with his strained relationship with his dad, a failed entertainer and his lone carer. On the other end of the spectrum at age 22 Otis is a successful leading man, to the audience his troubles are clear however to those around him onscreen they simmer beneath a loud and aggressive ego. Seeing the before and after for this character simultaneously is a superb showing of where his problems began, where they take him and their intrinsic connection to his father. LaBeouf’s deeply personal and self-reflective view on the narrative is the backbone of the film’s success. Otis at both ages and the father character James Lort are rounded and complex, no less because they are based on himself and his father respectively. LaBeouf blurs the lines between fact and fiction to bring forward three characters that stand both as fictional characters and as personal examinations. LaBoeuf goes a step further than just writing about his life, by playing the role of his father thereby spending the majority of his scenes with himself at age 12. Noah Jupe is Otis at age 12 and Lucas Hedges at age 22, both are brilliant in embodying the actor in a before and after state that emphasises the lasting effect fame and his father has had. Labeouf’s honest and therapeutic ‘truth hurts’ representation of his father shows a mature and balanced approach to tackling a relationship that was detrimental to him for so long.
The vision between writer and director is synchronised. Otis’s world is opened up through moments of childlike wonder that are quickly shattered by his confused reality. The battle for both Otis (past and present) and the audience to try and make sense of his father’s decisions is the film’s beating heart. Alma Har’el keeps the camera intrusively close to the characters so all is laid bare. She also blends film sets, which may look familiar, with the day to day goings on of a turbulent and eccentric father, son relationship. ‘Honey Boy’ has something for everyone whether your relationship with your parents is perfect or you’ve never known them. It succeeds at multiple levels because it’s a story of forgiveness and how difficult it can be to do so. Closed by Dylan’s ‘All I Really Want To Do’ a song about not wanting to destroy someone but a desire to just be friends. Take the song from any of the main character’s perspective and it’s meaning changes. ‘Honey Boy’ is a powerful and heartbreaking triumph, long live the renaissance of Shia Labeouf and the rise of Alma Har’el.
Written by Conor Crooks
STAR RATING –★★★★
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