Based on his own experience, actor Shia LaBeouf wrote this screenplay about his tumultuous childhood and stormy early adult years after he crash-landed into rehab and recovery.
He also plays James Lort, a fictionalized account of his own father, a mentally unstable ex-felon and former rodeo clown. He is emotionally abusive to his breadwinner son Otis, who is working on sets in L.A. while they live in a seedy residential motel. The son’s stories are focused on age 12 and 22, with Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges each portraying the character.
A frenetically-paced depiction of a chaotic upbringing, “Honey Boy” blends two periods of an actor’s dysfunctional life – his lost childhood and his reputation as a troublemaker prone to trigger-temper outbursts.
It’s bold, brave and a brutal watch, and director Alma Har’el never lets up.
The son’s arrested-development dad is his chaperone in Hollywood, and he comes across as a major jerk. James is a fast-talking hot-head alcoholic and drug addict who attends court-ordered AA meetings.
Portraying a character based on his own father, LaBoeuf is obviously working through daddy issues and his harsh upbringing, and it is not without pain. He goes full throttle diving into the deep end, this try for art as therapy.
The dad’s behavior can’t be condoned, but there is some sort of catharsis in understanding. However, who can make excuses for such erratic and reckless behavior? So, there is that.
Nevertheless, the two young actors excel at capturing Otis, from Noah Jupe’s vulnerability and innocence as he struggles to maintain hopes and dreams then Lucas Hedges’ finally addressing his demons as he attempts to get his life on track, not without a cavalier attitude or flippant response. Jupe and Hedges get more impressive with each film. And LaBoeuf is heart-wrenching in those times when James realizes he has messed up.
You might not like these characters, but you can’t look away. And a fine supporting cast helps define the emotional baggage at different junctures: Laura San Giacomo as a therapist, Martin Starr as a well-meaning counselor, comedian Byron Bowers as Otis’ rehab roommate, Clifton Collins Jr. as a Big Brother and FKA Twigs as a kind neighbor.
With LaBoeuf’s well-documented bad-boy behavior during his checkered career, you have an instant frame of reference. And with his attempts at redemption, plus success with the recent “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” the film may make you think differently.
It sure is one gutsy movie.