If you’re one of the many people stuck at home right now and need a good movie to pass the time, look no further than Alma Ha’rel’s Amazon original “Honey Boy.”
This 90-minute film written by Shia LaBeouf is based on LaBeouf’s own life experiences, focusing on his rocky relationship with his father while coming up in the film industry as a child, as well as the time he spent in rehab. In the film, LaBeouf (“Holes,” “Transformers,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon”) plays a fictionalized version of his own father, delivering a potent performance that will be sure to leave an impression on all audiences alike. Meanwhile, Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Lady Bird,” “Mid-80s”) and Noah Jupe (“A Quiet Place,” “Ford vs. Ferrari”) deliver equally impressive performances as Otis, a fictionalized version of LaBeouf himself. Throughout the film, we bounce back and forth between 22-year-old Otis’s (Hedges) struggles in rehab and 12-year-old Otis’s (Jupe) struggles as a child star, whose talents are taken advantage of by his abusive father.
While many directors would struggle with this nonlinear story structure, Ha’rel uses it to her advantage, producing an impressive and rewarding character study of Otis and his father. Ha’rel uses the flashbacks to Otis as a young boy growing up with his father as a way to show the struggles and trauma LaBeouf struggled with in real life growing up as a child actor. Meanwhile, the depiction of Otis in rehab shows the lasting marks this trauma can leave even 10 years later, as Otis tries to grapple with his inner demons from his turbulent life. Of course, Ha’rel couldn’t have done any of this without the honest, heartfelt script that LaBeouf wrote while in rehab himself, a fact that makes this film feel all the more authentic. Neither could she have done this without the incredible acting that brings these characters to life.
It’s truly impressive to see how well the young actors in “Honey Boy” handle the complex material they are given to work with. Jupe, 15, and Hedges, 23, act well beyond their years, showing a depth to their characters that is rarely seen even by the most experienced of actors. Throughout the story we see their anxiety, fear, sadness and anger in a very real way, without ever having to suffer through moments of overacting that often take away from character studies like this movie. It makes you wonder how much these two actors who have experienced what it’s like to be child stars in their own lives have in common with the role they are playing. Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf, 33, delivers a genuine depiction of his father that in itself takes an incredible amount of bravery and maturity. LaBeouf’s ability to play a character that is repulsive and empathetic at the same time shows he still has the skills that helped him rise so quickly as an actor in his youth and will likely serve him for years to come.
While the constant flashbacks and occasional dream sequences may turn some people away from the movie, I would still recommend giving it a try, no matter what kind of a cinema fan you are. While “Honey Boy” is inspired by LaBeouf’s own life, it’s material is something that is accessible to all of us. The themes explored in this film such as anxiety, isolation and hope are universal themes that we can all relate to, especially when delivered in the honest way they are here.
My Score: 4 out of 5 Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Chris Townley is a political science student at the University of Vermont. He is from Quechee.