Gabe’s review published on Letterboxd:
I love Shia Labeouf. One time, I was at a Los Angeles flea market and Shia Labeouf came up to me and handed me a flyer to one of his celebrity-filled music events like he was putting on a community theater production. Us both pretending we both didn’t know he was Shia Labeouf was some of the more effecting performance art I’ve ever taken part in.
Labeouf’s emboldened ego and desperation to be taken seriously has made for, I think, some very entertaining, but not entirely sympathetic, movies and art. But while I have no doubt that Shia is dealing with a lot of truth about a deeply fucked-up childhood here, his inability to approach his Honey Boy script with any objectivity makes for an indulgent, one-note drama with no humanity beyond pain. The director is far too much on Shia’s side, and so the movie ends up having the very specific thesis of “Shia’s childhood was terrible,” Basically, an entirely too specific bio-pic that is very hard for anyone to map their own emotions onto. The main audience for this movie is Shia Labeouf, and I imagine he got something out of it.
More generally, there’s just a lot of indy-film syndrome here. All the performances were solid, Lucas Hedges at times did a strikingly accurate Shia. And there were some very great visual moments that could’ve been played humourously, that were instead scored with heavy soberness, not allowing us to feel anything but dark weight.
And this was the same problem I had with the other Labeouf movie from this fall, Peanut Butter Falcon, which also had one of those ethereal scores that exist only to posit “this is important...”
I get why those scores are approved so often for these type of independent films. They heighten the idea that this film, unlike broader studio films, have more emotional value. The problem, however, is that the music posits that thesis outside of the actual movie, and are speaking directly to the audience rather than serve any emotion onscreen. So when a director or production hears that score, they’re hearing music interpretation of “your movie is powerful”. It’s a “yes-man” of a score, and doesn’t serve any actual narrative function.
There was a quote used in the Variety review that, to be honest, is the reason I went and saw the film. “An ego-less retelling,” they said. Which, I mean, come on, no fucking way. I still don't feel like I ever saw a side of Shia Labeouf that I wasn’t supposed to feel sorry for. And while I do think there’s a lot of justified reasons to feel a deep, genuine sympathy for this child actor who had an absolute shit upbringing, a single glimpse of accountability would’ve gone a long way in giving this movie at least one another perspective.
That being said, Shia Labeouf is an incredible dresser and his hair is really messy and his eyes are mysterious and probably smells a little weird but maybe in a good way.