Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
Most people who experience mania only express the frantic, incohesive memories it brings on only to their closest loved ones. However, “Honey Boy” gives a confident and beautiful look into the traumatic memories of Shia Lebeouf.
Since the birth of the child-star-driven Disney Channel, the rise and fall of childhood stardom has been detailed in every tabloid magazine. The prime example of this tragic fall from grace from the Disney empire is Shia Lebeouf. “Honey Boy” gives a cathartic look into the catalyst of LaBeouf’s breakdown in a brutally honest artistic interpretation of his life.
LaBeouf wrote the script, and he and presents himself as a character named Otis at two different times in his life. The story chronicles the 12 year-old Otis, played by Noah Jupe, and the relationship with his emotionally and physically abusive father, James, played by LaBeouf.
These scenes are sewn together by a 22 year-old Otis, played by Lucas Hedges. Here we see an older character who enters rehab, where he has to face the trauma his father has caused him.
Lebeouf playing his own father in a movie loosely based on his own life might sound pretentious and narcissistic. However, his performance comes off as a therapeutic exercise that brings all of his trauma to the forefront.
While he recognizes his father was flawed, the strength it took to find empathy for this abusive man is felt through every line and scene that portrays James reaching out for a paternal bond with his son.
He envelops himself in his greatest fear and embraces it, showing growth since his days as the front cover of every tabloid.
No line encapsulates that more than when Lebeouf says, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that kid,” during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. This can be read as simple dialogue, but through his tearful delivery, there’s deeper moment of self-reflection. Without LaBeouf’s troubled past, he would have never had the heart to play his manipulative father.
LaBeouf may be a revelation, but Jupe and Hedges bring forward a beautifully connected performance as Otis. Both portrayals are at such distinct moments in LaBeouf’s career, however, both actors bring the same paranoid persona to their performance
Most of Hedges’ scenes as older Otis consist of him trying to remember past traumatic moments in therapy. All of the emotions connected with these painful memories are seen through nervous ticks and bursts of anger. These nuances in performance bleed through to Jupes performance making the spastic recollections feel as natural as a therapy session.
The scenes involving young Otis act like a surreal flow of consciousness, perfectly coexisting with the emotion and stories expressed by the older Otis in the therapy scenes.
Director Alma Har’el makes these transitions especially effective. Instead of making the film’s style consistent, both time periods feel like someone legitimately trying to respect and tape together these fragmented memories.
“Honey Boy” is a magical and stylized retelling of the fall and rebirth of stardom and the traumas that follow you from childhood to adulthood and should be seen as soon as it hits theaters Nov. 8.
This film review is part of Landon Roberts’ coverage from the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.