Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
Director: Alma Har’el
Screenplay: Shia LaBeouf
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, FKA Twigs
Running Time: 1h 34mins
Shia LaBeouf is a man of many faces.
Going from his childhood days in Even Stevens, onto the dizzying heights of Steven Spielberg for a fourth Indiana Jones, accompanied with the pyrotechnic-heavy Transformers films, live and direct from the detonator switch of Michael Bay’s mind. Then onto a spiralling media image of drunkenly disrupting a Broadway production of Cabaret (how dare he), to red carpet appearances with a brown paper bag over his face, displaying the slogan ‘I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE.’ LaBeouf has had performance art installations thwarted by Reddit trolls, going full frontal in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, punching an Oxford University student in an elevator… The list really does go on. (In LaBeouf’s defence, the Oxford student requested he be punched in order to complete a piece of ‘performance art’ he was doing. LaBeouf obliged reluctantly.) The bottom line is that for the majority of his adult life, Shia LaBeouf has been condemned to a seemingly endless trial in the court of public opinion.
This streak appeared to climax in Savannah, Georgia where LaBeouf was arrested on a charge of Driving Under the Influence; another case in his long battle with alcoholism. It was in a court ordered rehabilitation centre that LaBeouf began to pen Honey Boy. He had just been diagnosed with PTSD and was tasked with attempting to discover the root of his sickness.
The autobiographical piece focuses around Otis, a young actor meant to represent LaBeouf, over two separate timelines. Otis at twenty-two (Lucas Hedges), has been ordered by the court to attend a rehabilitation centre. The other Otis at twelve (Noah Jupe), is an up-and-coming child star living on the outskirts of Los Angeles with his abusive father, portrayed by LaBeouf himself. The performances of both Hedges and Jupe are remarkably strong. Hedges brings a feeling of balled up energy, like a toy popper on the verge of exploding into the air. His cadence is impressively similar to LeBeouf’s; each sentence and word coming from the front, but with a pace and power to them. We feel older Otis’ frustration. Cooped up like a chicken in a home where all advice from experts appears to be marinated in patronising, Rainbow-Rhythmic nonsense. But yet, we want him to listen and we want him to heal.
Noah Jupe’s portrayal of a young Otis manages to live up to Lucas Hedges’ performance. Jupe’s timeline represents LaBeouf’s days in the Disney Channel sitcom Even Stevens. Pie fights and elaborate pranks amidst a whacky suburban family. Classic watching-with-a-mouthful-of-cereal-on-your-way-out-the-door-before-school TV. Jupe’s Otis is shy and modest on set but fully alert to his living situation. Between tokes of smokes he’s bummed from his ‘dad’, Jupe toes the line between the innocence of any twelve-year-old boy. Yet, he also shows the callouses that would grow from the immense responsibility of being breadwinner for a household at such a young age.
There is a fierce juxtaposition between Otis’ technicolour latte foam life on set and the dusty heat of his life in his Echo Park motel home. Alma Har’el, in her directorial feature-debut, demonstrates a beautiful sensibility to the colours of the film. From the warm tint of the Californian sun, to the neon dreamscape blue of young Otis and Shy Girl, played by FKA Twigs. The pairing of this with Alex Somers and Zach Shields’ original score bathes us in a delicate and nostalgic glow.
It is also within this earlier timeline that we see LaBeouf take on the most interesting role of his career. In taking on the role of his own abusive father, there’s a danger that we end up seeing LeBeouf do an impression of his old man, rather than a deeper unravelling of the character within. Furthermore, there is a chance that the performance can turn into a full assassination of character, leaving no space for nuance and creating a wholly disagreeable villain. However, LeBeouf manages to create a relationship with the viewer, one where we don’t quite know where we stand with the character. Slight flickers of charm are intertwined within his narrative of child, alcohol and narcotics abuse. Some lines leave us cracking an acute smile, others leaving us angered. There’s something remarkably human in LeBeouf’s portrayal. We see the love for his son, but also the reasons why he should never be in custody of him. His jealousy for Otis’ success, but also the excitement and desire to live vicariously through his son’s achievements.
Honey Boy is a revelation. It serves as a yardstick for a huge turnaround in not only the career, but also the life of Shia LaBeouf. For a man whose mistakes have been well documented in the media for years, there was every chance that Honey Boy would come across as gratuitously self-serving; another reason for LeBeouf’s name to be in headlines. However, that is not the case at all. With Alma Har’el in the director’s chair, a certain distance is put between LaBeouf and the picture. Additionally, no poignancy is lost due to Har’el’s delicate treatment and shared sentiment with LeBeouf’s script.
Instead, we see a beautifully colourful, cathartic explosion of a man who’s getting back onto his feet, and back onto our screens. This time, on his terms.