Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen twins, there are endless stories documenting the challenging lives of prominent child actors. The pitfalls of fame are in abundance, suffocating them from every angle and submerging them into maturity before they’re even ready. How these actors navigate the endless temptations and obstacles is often a gamble. However, if you’re Shia LaBeouf, the environment may lead to severe emotional distress. Such is the case in LaBeouf’s latest film “Honey Boy” in which the writer/actor exercises a long overdue catharsis contextualizing the heartbreaking and complicated relationship between him and his father.
Serving as a fictionalized autobiographical retelling of LaBeouf’s rise and fall from stardom, “Honey Boy” highlights the complicated relationship of Otis Lort at the age of twelve (Noah Jupe) and twenty-two (Lucas Hedges) with his father James (Shia LaBeouf). The two struggle to reconcile as they cope with their self destructive tendencies in Otis’s journey to recovery.
Director Alma Har’el takes her sharp documentarian instincts to paint a personal and authentic portrait of a distraught Otis and his father in 1995 and 2005. Har’el shapes an experience so intimate it’s as if LaBeouf’s memories were extracted from his head and projected directly onto the screen. Her approach is somber, nonintrusive, and naturalistic. She isn’t afraid to linger on those essential bits of human emotion, drawing us further into the complicated relationship between Otis and James. It’s a film filled with striking images and colors that create a melancholic recollection allowing for the performances of LaBeouf, Hedges, and Jupe to flourish.
It quickly becomes apparent just how much the shadow of Shia LaBeouf’s father loomed over him. Rather than lambast him for being a horrendous parent, LaBeouf takes a levelheaded and empathetic approach as he effortlessly slips into the mind of a deeply damaged man. LaBeouf’s performance is raw, unfiltered, and clearly illustrates the tug and pull abuse young Shia endured as a child. However, there are glimmers of optimism as LaBeouf acknowledges his father’s attempts at championing him from a young age. It’s a spectacularly transformative performance that allows the actor to reconcile with his past - embodying the source of his PTSD as he unflinchingly draws attention to the cyclical nature of hereditary addiction. Every drink, hit, bump slap, and shout masks the deep-rooted hurt that’s festered inside James for so long that he, in turn, transfers to Otis. While LaBeouf’s Awards potential is uncertain, he’s more than deserving as he captivated in arguably his best performance to date. While Shia LaBeouf undoubtedly lights up the screen, Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe rise to the occasion to match him.
Both actors beautifully internalize the pain of someone longing for affection as Otis is forced to bottle his emotions. Jupe showcases a heartbreaking loss of innocence and growing numbness to the abusive cycle James throttles him through. As Otis transitions to adulthood, his circumstances envelop him as he transitions into the same addictive and emotionally unstable lifestyle as his father. Hedges, while light on screen time, takes full advantage of it emulating LaBeouf without resorting to imitation. His erratic behavior is real, and his conflict felt as Hedges exercises the full range of his acting abilities.
While a bit too meta, the real magic of “Honey Boy” is how Shia LaBeouf bears his sole in this moving exercise in cinematic therapy. “A seed has to violently destroy itself to become a flower,” says James in the final moments of the film as LaBeouf himself accepts that, for better and worse, his relationship with his father helped shaped him as he closes the book on this chapter blossoming into a new man.