Honey Boy

Honey Boy ★★★½

The cinema as a tool to cope with real-life trauma is nothing particularly new, but writer and actor Shia LaBeouf manages to make the autobiographically-tinged portrait feel fresh and invigorating in director Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, loosely based on LaBeouf’s own life. Anyone who has been familiar with the actor’s real-life struggles in recent years will pick up on this early on as the film begins as volatile actor Otis (Lucas Hedges) is arrested and placed in a court ordered rehabilitation facility, where his choice is either confront the source of his pain or serve hard time. In flashbacks we see Otis as a child actor (played by an outstanding Noah Jupe) and his deeply strained relationship with his father, portrayed by an almost unrecognizable Shia LaBeouf in a bit of meta-casting. Otis’s father is an easily agitated disciplinarian prone to flying off the handle, he’s been in trouble with the law, struggles with alcoholism, and we’re told his job as Otis’s handler is the only one he could get as a convicted felon. Their relationship is an abusive one, but remarkably LeBeouf refuses to present his father as a one-dimensional monster even when his behavior is disgusting at times. Rather he is shown instead to be very much a man not entirely unlike the adult Otis; a wounded soul trying their best to cope with emotions that so often get the best of them. Har’el’s direction exudes confidence and they possess a keen understanding of human nature as well as a distinct visual style well suited to the idiosyncrasies of the story. The film at times comes close to veering into the territory of a therapy session, but instead it thankfully emerges as a successful character study not unlike Almodovar’s Pain and Glory, another recent depiction of an artist in crisis. Otis comes to learn by the end of his journey that he can’t change the past or the man that his father was, but rather reconciliation is able to be achieved as Otis doesn’t let the best of himself slip away to his own demons and insecurities. This ultimately lends Honey Boy the qualities of an inspirational feel good film that further cements LeBeouf as a unique voice to be taken seriously behind the camera as much as in front of it.

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