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USA 2019
Directed by
Alma Har'el
94 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Honey Boy

Synopsis: The story of a child film actor Otis Lort (Noah Jupe as the 12 year old Otis, Lucas Hedges as the 22 year old) attempting to come to terms with his relationship with his abusive father (Shia LaBoeuf).

With Craig Gillespie’s I,Tonya (2017) which was based on the real life experience of figure skater Tonya Harding we witnessed the stage Mom from Hell. With Alma Har'el’s Honey Boy, which is based on the real life experiences of Shia LaBeouf, who wrote the script, it’s the stage Pop.

Honey Boy opens in 2005 with the adult Otis going into rehab after his third drink-driving offence and then scrolls back to 1995 to discover the origins of his drink problem and bad boy behaviour – his alcoholic, drug using father, guardian and manager, James, a former rodeo clown whose native intelligence is warped by his own child hood as the son of alcoholic parents. Just as Harding’s mother in a mis-guided notion of parenting believed that any expression of affection was emotional weakness and a threat to their child’s survival, so James submits his son to a steady regime of verbal and emotional abuse peppered with outbursts of intimidating anger.

The film switches between these two time frames with Har'el, a documentary-maker in her feature film debut, smoothly handling the temporal shifts and the intermittent forays of the older Otis into his memories and wishful imaginings of his childhood as his rehab counselor (Laura San Giacomo) encourages him to dig into the depths of his pain which she diagnoses as a form of PTSD.

LaBeouf (who can be seen to good effect in the currently screening The Peanut Butter Falcon) has done a fine job as a writer of addressing his own pain and particularly as he is in effect playing his own father, to call Honey Boy a cathartic experience for him seems well justified. For us the audience it also mean that we experience an engrossingly intense performance as the actor introjects himself into his own memories in order to make sense of his father’s behaviour. Young Jupe does a remarkable job working with him

The final credits show pictures of LaBeouf as a child with his father (who is still alive) thus confirming that what we have seen is close to the truth. Apropos of such realism, which is well served by Natasha Braier’s cinematography, much of it hand-held, Lucas Hedges, with his red hair and pale Anglo-Celtic complexion, good as his performance is, seems an odd choice for the role as the adult Otis as he doesn’t look anything like La Boeuf or Jupe. Also Otis’s relationship with a pretty young black sex worker (FKA Twigs), a neighbour at the cheap motel in which Otis lives with his father, comes across as somewhat over-romanticised.

Notwithstanding, Honey Boy with its strong performances, skilful articulation and real-life underpinnings is a rewarding film.




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