Despite the title, “Honey Boy” steers away from all things sweet.
Directed by Alma Har’el, “Honey Boy” was created by and based on the events of Shia LaBeouf’s life. The 90-minute drama tells the story of an actor named Otis who is admitted into a rehab facility after being charged with multiple alcohol-related offenses. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Otis’s adult struggles are rooted in his desire for closure in his relationship with his abusive father and his traumatizing childhood upbringing.
Alongside a relatively straightforward plot, the movie prevails in its magnificent casting. Playing 12-year-old Otis is Noah Jupe, a terrific young actor who gives the emotional performance of a child desperate for a present father. Jupe captures all aspects of boyish charm while also channeling a wide spectrum of Otis’s emotional derangement. Between laughing fits and complete hysteria, many of Jupe’s scenes are difficult to watch with the magnitude of his convincing performance.
Lucas Hedges delivers an intense portrayal of adult Otis, who struggles with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and begins mirroring his father’s violence and alcoholism. Able to perfectly capture anger and heartbreak through every scream and cry, Hedges is frightening and raw, providing an achingly vulnerable performance that is sure to cause more than a few goosebumps.
The most compelling cast member is LaBeouf as Otis’s father James, a role he characterized based on his own childhood experiences. While his brash vernacular scatters comedic relief throughout the movie, LaBeouf’s portrayal is mostly terrifying, causing viewers to fear for the safety of young Otis with his father’s abusive tendencies. Though it is clear James loves his son but struggles to express it, LaBeouf’s rageful outbursts are as effectively unpleasant as his moments of affection, where the authenticity of his emotional vulnerability is questionable.
The movie is highly successful in its storytelling. Toggling between past and present scenes proves to be an effective technique for the overall clarity of the plot. The transparency of the ways that Otis was affected by his father leaves room for other interesting plot exploration, such as the companionship Otis finds in unexpected people and his awareness of human interaction that he finds himself deprived of.
The soul of the film is carried through great production. Har’el does a stellar job at capturing scenes that equally distribute the presence of the characters and the setting around them. As a movie with a heavy aspect of anger and rage, the tone is fueled by warm lenses and outdoor shots, glorifying the outdoor heat in a way that builds to the intensity of the damaged character relationships. The music is appropriately minimal alongside stunning cinematography, offering a very indulging cinematic experience through raw, continuous shots and little sound editing.
While Har’el put the film together, it is LaBeouf’s masterpiece above all. As mentioned in the final lines of the movie, “Honey Boy” is the ultimate step towards closure that LaBeouf can take towards his troubled relationship with his father. To the audience, it is a harrowing story of a deranged relationship between a father and son. To LaBeouf, it is the story of his life put together in one final attempt towards healing.