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New Release Review - HONEY BOY

honey boy review
While in rehab, a young actor recalls his tumultuous relationship with his father.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alma Har'el

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs, Byron Bowers, Laura San Giacomo, Natasha Lyonne, Maika Monroe, Clifton Collins Jr.

honey boy poster




From Judy Garland to Michael Jackson, celebrities who have their childhoods sacrificed at the altar of the entertainment industry have often gone on to lead troubled and tortured lives. For a while it seemed as though Shia LaBeouf was set to become the latest child star turned Hollywood burnout, with a series of tired and emotional incidents that led to a stint in rehab in 2017. It was while in rehab that LaBeouf penned the script for Honey Boy, inspired by his tumultuous relationship with his father and brought to the screen here by director Alma Har'el, an Israeli documentarian making her narrative feature debut.

honey boy review


In Honey Boy, LaBeouf's onscreen surrogate is Otis, a young rising star played as a twentysomething by Lucas Hedges and as an 11-year-old by Noah Jupe. Following an alcohol fuelled car crash, Hedges' incarnation of Otis winds up in rehab, where he is diagnosed as suffering from PTSD. A counsellor (Laura San Giacomo) prods and pokes at Otis, encouraging him to dig deep into his past and figure out just what past trauma is causing his current stress. This causes Otis to recall his childhood, a life of being hauled from one film set to another accompanied by his father, James (played by LaBeouf), a volatile ex-alcoholic and registered sex offender.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - So Long, My Son ]

Otis and James live together in a crummy motel, the father forcing his son to rehearse late into the night, rewarding him with cigarettes. We're not talking parent of the year material here, and at times James' temper spills over into physical abuse of his son. When James meets his son's Big Brother programme mentor (Clifton Collins Jr.), he flies into an angry rage, accusing the man of trying to steal his son from him, and threatening him with racist language. But every now and then James shows another side, making his son laugh with his comic shtick, a holdover from his past life as a rodeo clown.

honey boy review


Honey Boy might be the best movie about PTSD since Hal Ashby's Coming Home, which of course was made at a time when nobody understood such a diagnosis. The contrast is made between the soft and understanding approach of the older Otis's counsellors at the rehab clinic and the lack of real support given to his father. James is a war veteran and is clearly suffering from PTSD, but nobody has diagnosed him as such. Honey Boy doesn't excuse his behaviour, but it makes it explicitly clear that men like him are often a symptom of a world that has tossed them aside. Society has proven as poor a guardian to James as he is to his son. In this way, Honey Boy is a more effective look at mental illness than the more crude approach of Joker.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Motherless Brooklyn ]

As a writer, LaBeouf has crafted a tender and touching tale of forgiveness and understanding. Perhaps through coming to terms with his father's misgivings, he's issuing a plea for forgiveness for his own indiscretions. Whether you're willing to forgive LaBeouf or not (and let's face it, his behaviour wouldn't have caused anyone to bat an eyelid a couple of decades ago) will likely inform your capacity to appreciate Honey Boy.

honey boy review


And there is much to appreciate here. As an actor, LaBeouf is simply outstanding, playing a character who with his widow's peak/mullet combo and protruding beer belly, looks ridiculous in a still image but is horrifyingly convincing at 24 frames per second. Honey Boy cements LaBeouf as one of the most interesting actors we have today, while also introducing us to British singer FKA Twigs, making a striking debut in a largely mute performance that involves dancing as much as acting, and young actor Jupe, who is the equal of LaBeouf in their scenes together.

Honey Boy is in UK/ROI cinemas December 6th.




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