Honey Boy is a rather unusual film in the way that the entire concept was borne from Shia LaBeouf’s own rehabilitation programme, where he wrote the script itself as a therapeutic exercise. It’s based upon his experiences as a child star and the convoluted relationship with his ex rodeo clown father.
We’re introduced to Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) in 2005, a successful movie star grappling with an extremely unhealthy alcohol addiction. After his alcoholism places him in the care of a rehab counsellor, Otis is ordered to complete the programme or instead face jail time for his offences. Here, the story is unravelled to the audience as they take us back 10 years prior to the event, and we get a peek into a troubling childhood wrought with emotional conflict. By the end, assuming large parts of the characters are in fact, true to life observations, it’s pretty easy to empathise with Shia’s well documented celebrity faux pas.
Back in 1995, Otis’s character is played by an excellent Noah Jupe. Shia LaBeouf takes on the role of Otis’s father James, ex rodeo clown (true), veteran (true), acting coach (true) and now sober (true) mentor.
The film is split into two parts: current Otis in 2005, attending rehab and coming to terms with his past and then younger Otis in 1995; budding child star prodigy and protege. Much of the film is spent with younger Otis, revealing the intense relationship with his father. For example, when on set, James can be seen mingling with staff, reeling off bullshit and delivering unsavoury jokes, he’s kind of likeable but for all the wrong reasons and undermines Otis’ professionalism or attempts to be so. Back at home, in between his father’s shouting matches with neighbours or desperate attempts to impart wisdom, Otis runs lines with him. Over and over. It’s excruciating to watch the tenacity of James sometimes, any notion of well-meaning parental guidance is subsequently dashed by a harsh lesson or brutal monologue, occasionally resulting in physical altercations. Knowing how accurate the film is to LaBeouf’s own life, makes it all the more difficult to process.
It all of course serves in detailing the journey that leads Otis to rehab all those years later and the film does a solid job of keeping you engaged for the most part. You know where the film is going so there’s no real mystery to be solved there but this is a film about indulging in LaBeouf’s pain and him sharing that with us as an audience whether you like it or not. It’s a rare thing to have something so personal put before you with little censorship, many perhaps would have chosen to play down or omit certain truths but with Honey Boy, we get the good, bad and ugly.
Honey Boy is a painful, yet in some ways refreshing semi-biography of sorts. I imagine there is a profound relevance for many people working as young actors in the industry and though it may not have been LaBeouf’s intention for the film, it will most certainly resonate with audiences and peers alike. It doesn’t hold back as we’re pulled front and centre into the troubling trajectory of an admired and sometimes misunderstood actor, which makes for oddly guilty entertainment.
Honey boy is streaming now on Amazon Prime