Shia LaBeouf’s career has had plenty of ups and downs. In the early 2000s, LaBeouf worked through three seasons of the Disney Channel show “Even Stevens.” As he grew up, he would go on to star in major blockbusters like the “Transformers” series and the fourth Indiana Jones. Sadly, he has not been able to lead a spotless personal life with a couple of arrests in 2014 and 2017. LaBeouf stated at a roundtable discussion, published by The Hollywood Reporter on December 4, 2019, that while he was in rehab after his arrest, he started to write a screenplay.
“Honey Boy” follows Otis, played by Noah Jupe, a child actor with a father who is not reliable, played by LaBeouf. The story takes Otis’ life as a 12-year-old and presents another timeline of Otis as a 22-year-old in rehab, this time played by Lucas Hedges, who is reflecting on his childhood.
While the screenplay is written by LaBeouf, he chose not to direct the film. This is the first feature for director Alma Har’el. This was a smart choice because giving the visual storytelling to someone else definitely works to their advantage. The movie feels engaging and does not feel like we are sitting next to LaBeouf as he rambles on about his life and why we should pity him. Har’el provides a source of empathy to the central character, getting an incredible performance out of Noah Jupe.
Over the past couple of years, Jupe has been turning in solid supporting performances in “A Quiet Place” and “Ford v. Ferrari.” This role proves he has the strength to be a leading man. Har’el often gives Jupe direct close-ups where he looks directly into the camera and at the audience. It beautifully evokes Barry Jenkins’s camerawork from “Moonlight” and, with that, there is an unspoken desire for acceptance that creates a bridge between these two works.
Despite LeBoeuf’s father being manipulative and unreliable at times, he is not treated as a villain. The character of James Lort has moments where he seems as fragile as his own son, and his backstory seems to hint that he may be using Otis’ talents to live vicariously. It should be noted that the relationship is not perfect, and there are emotionally difficult moments that involve some physical abuse. These are difficult to watch because these characters are so real, and Har’el is able to ground the camera work and make it feel like a documentary.
The commitment to realism while also using a nonlinear story structure could create a stylistic nightmare in a lesser artist’s hands, but Har’el strikes the balance perfectly. Using parallel scenes as 12-year-old Otis and his 22-year-old self, “Honey Boy” is able to create real catharsis in a fiction story.
While “Honey Boy” was missing from this year’s Oscar and Golden Globe nomination lists, it will not be forgotten. This is an act of courageous storytelling that shows Hollywood that Shia LeBoeuf is more than just an actor that can run away from explosions.
“Honey Boy” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.