Noah Jupe in HONEY BOY. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)
California School of the Arts

‘Honey Boy’: A look into Shia LaBeouf’s troubled past

From a screenplay about Shia LaBeouf’s childhood and own experiences comes “Honey Boy,” from award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el.

The movie documents Otis, a young actor (Noah Jupe), and his relationship with his father through scenes from both his rocky childhood and adult years. LeBeouf takes on the role of the boy’s deadbeat father, a version of his own, as an ex-rodeo clown and a felon. 

The story begins with older Otis (Lucas Hedges), a young actor in his 20s, whose life is spiraling out of control.

Forced to go to rehab, Otis is faced with the fact that his current actions may stem from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Although he denies the claim, the film travels back in time to his past. 

Young Otis is a child actor, known for his comedic roles and silly gigs, but his life at home is a stark contrast to the funny faces on screen. His emotionally and physically abusive father strives to handle his own problems over parenting his son.

Otis struggles to cope with this daily environment of arguments and verbal abuse, seeking comfort in other outlets. He begins a relationship with the older, shy girl neighbor (FKA Twigs) across the street; we can see how he begins to confuse love, comfort and sex — which reflects on his future as an adult. 

(Image courtesy of Amazon Studios)

LaBeouf is known for many things, especially over the past decade. From a child star to amateurish performance artist to spending his days in and out of jail, he has racked up a record of incredible acting, rudeness and questionable stunts.

This film reopens our eyes to LaBeouf’s story of struggle and success, showing us his own self-awareness in his upbringing. 

Har’el weaves together two timelines, both full of emotional trials and reconciliation with the past. In a short 93 minutes, we experience LaBeouf’s form of therapy through strong dialogue and the gritty realism of life.

In every line, LaBeouf portrays this version of his father with every ounce of emotion. He avoids one-note villainy, showing two sides to a very flawed, yet redeemable father.

There is an extra note of realism in this portrayal, avoiding self-pity for himself or strict stereotypes of alcoholic fathers.

LaBeouf is a little heavy-handed with the motif of a chicken to represent his past, but he personalizes the film through his raw, flowing dialogue and acting.  

The tone remains constant and there are levels of high tension mixed with a sense of candor, especially due to Jupe’s acting.

We are able to connect with his tears and frustrations because of his father, but it isn’t all one-sided.

The movie tracks his father’s journey through rehab with Har’el’s expressive filmmaking and gives us a look beneath the violence and anger.

“Honey Boy” tends to focus on the past, even with the inclusion of older Otis. The alternation between the two timelines gives the opportunity of reconciliation, but otherwise holds little significance in content.

Additionally, the conclusion, although satisfying enough, was somewhat anticlimatic. 

After years of LaBeouf’s wild antics, I believe “Honey Boy” was a project of improvement and reflection. Hopefully, in the process, he did not drag himself down in the thick layer of violence and anger of the script, and instead focused on the progression of growth and hope underneath.

Overall, Har’el and LaBeouf do an incredible job diving into the depths of a life of an addict’s son to create a realistic and powerful piece. 

The film premiered at the Sundance festival early this year, on Jan. 25. It has now been acquired by Amazon Studios and is scheduled to release Nov. 8.