Starring Shia Lebeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, Byron Bowers, Natasha Lyonne, Maika Monroe, Clifton Collins Jr.
You don’t have to know much about Shia LeBeouf to recognize him as the character Lucas Hedges is portraying in the opening montage. “Honey Boy,” is penned by LeBeouf, is about his difficult childhood with his father. The kicker is LeBeouf is playing his dad in one of the most gut-wringing supporting male performances this year. “Honey Boy” feels like cinematic therapy for the actor who has long dealt with breakdowns, arrests, and dysfunction. The musical score by Alex Somers (“Captain Fantastic“) aids the viewer in feeling the emotion LeBeouf offers up. Rarely does “Honey Boy” feel like a project done to explain his behavior, and the viewer will certainly find more empathy for him after seeing this.
12-year-old child actor Otis Lort (Jupe) has ‘hired’ his father James (LeBeouf) to manage him. They use the per diem he earns from his acting to live on, staying at the cheapest motel possible and spending the rest on junk food and cigarettes. James is a failed entertainer who suffers from PTSD stemming from his time in the combat, which is still no excuse for his violent and abusive temper. He’s also a registered sex offender so working for his son is the only work he can find. “The only thing of value my father gave me was pain,” 22-year-old Otis (Hedges) explains to his court-appointed therapist.
"It’s heartbreaking to watch any child being abused on screen, but it feels a bit deeper here when you realize you have seen the results of this specific abuse playing out in the news every time the "Transformers" actor is arrested again."
The first half of the film shows a terrific Jupe as a young Otis balancing the madness of his abnormal life while concentrating on his acting career. Over time we watch the mild-mannered child work up the courage and desperation to confront his physically and mentally abusive father. James is the uneducated guy who must belittle everyone around him to feel better, including his own son who is desperate for affection and love. It’s heartbreaking to watch any child being abused on screen, but it feels a bit deeper here when you realize you have seen the results of this specific abuse playing out in the news every time the “Transformers” actor is arrested again.
Alma Har’el’s direction is fine, but there comes a point where the character’s conversations become repetitive. “Honey Boy” begins to stall in the middle and quickly loses momentum. The editing takes us backward and forwards from Otis the boy to Otis the man as continues to cope with his childhood. LeBeouf channels this uncomfortable portrayal that is easily his best on-camera work. The original script is also quite an accomplishment. The climactic scene actually appears in the trailer, “You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t pay you.” There isn’t a more difficult scene in the entire film. Still, “Honey Boy” leaves the viewer wanting a little bit more as it never leans in as hard as it could with the emotions. The style of the movie seems to take a bit more precedence over the narrative.
"Honey Boy" is a moving experience to watch as Shia LeBeouf finds catharsis by putting his own brutal past on the screen.