Time: 93 Minutes
Shia LaBeouf as James Lort
Lucas Hedges as Otis Lort (age 22)
Noah Jupe as Otis Lort (age 12)
FKA Twigs as Shy Girl
Director: Alma Har’el
When 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) begins to find success as a television star, his abusive, alcoholic father (Shia LaBeouf) returns and takes over as his guardian, and their contentious relationship is followed over a decade.
For a while I heard about a movie where Shia LaBeouf was writing a movie about himself and that he’d be playing his own father. It seemed like such an odd idea, but I was actually rather curious to see what that’d be like. I managed to get to see it, and it was really great, and lived up to all the acclaim that it has been deservedly receiving.
This movie takes place through two storylines, one in 2005 with adult Otis (Otis being the representative of Shia LaBeouf) in rehab, and the other with young Otis in 1995 and his relationship with his father. That storytelling worked quite well for the movie overall. Honey Boy somehow works even better knowing that this script was originally written by Shia LaBeouf as a form of therapy while in rehab, it’s an incredibly personal story and you really feel that throughout, even without knowing the context about the movie. There is such an immense level of vulnerability and tenderness in this writing, and LaBeouf really wrote something incredible here. The movie can be hard to watch at points, mainly some of the scenes between Otis and his father, some scenes particularly feel painfully real, and so much of it comes from the screenplay. However you are locked in from beginning to end, and the ending itself is excellent and cathartic. Honey Boy is about an hour and 30 minutes long, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing. While it gets its everything across and to the point, it really could’ve used at least 15 more minutes of screentime to flesh out certain parts of the story. The 2005 storyline particularly needed some more development, it felt noticeably weaker compared to the 1995 one. That’s really my only problem with the movie.
One of the highlights of the movie is the great cast. Noah Jupe plays Otis at age 12, and Lucas Hedges plays him at age 22, and both of them are very good in their role. Jupe is particularly fantastic, and with this performance solidifies himself as one of the best young actors working today. There’s also FKA Twigs who’s pretty good in a supporting role. However much of the acclaim has been surrounding Shia LaBeouf’s performance, and for very good reason, he’s absolutely fantastic here. He’s given great performances before, but he’s somehow on a whole other level here. LaBeouf plays his own abusive father, who in this movie is called James, and his performance is truly transformative here. It’s even more impressive given that he’s playing the primary source of his pain and trauma in his childhood. Jupe and him share such painfully believable on screen chemistry.
This is the feature film debut from director Alma Har’el, and her work here is fantastic, and this movie definitely shows that she’s a talented filmmaker to really pay attention to. Everything on a technical level is top notch, with the cinematography being particularly stunning. The tone of the movie goes between being wonderfully dreamlike and startlingly real, and that was all handled very well.
Honey Boy is an emotionally raw, heartfelt and personal movie, so beautifully made. The script is honest, therapeutic and well written, Har’el’s direction is great, and the acting is fantastic, particularly from Noah Jupe and Shia LaBeouf. It really needed to be longer and have more time to flesh things out in its plot, and that would’ve taken the movie to a whole new level, but otherwise it’s a truly great film and one of the best from 2019. Definitely check it out whenever you can get the chance to see it.