Director: Alma Har’el
Writer(s): Shia LaBeouf
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges
Synopsis: A child actor has to learn to live with his rodeo clown father.
I have been excited about this film ever since I read the Esquire article about Shia LaBeouf by Eric Sullivan (found here, it is fantastic and definitely worth your time). That article takes you through the mind of Shia and his upbringing, and you can begin to understand why he became the person he did. To put it lightly, his childhood was fucked, and the amount of success he had at a young age managed to be more of a curse than it was a blessing. LaBeouf was at the end of his road, and not many people wanted him back. He got arrested, made countless publicity stunts (including the “I am not famous anymore” bag he wore), and became an enemy to the public. He was starring in major motion pictures, making money, and living the life people would dream of. However, Shia hit a bump in the road and for a while, it looked like his career was over.
Then, out of nowhere, we hear about this film coming out. One that was supposed to be a look into Shia’s life and what he actually went through. It garnered major reception from both critics and audiences alike from the many festivals it went through, and between this and The Peanut Butter Falcon, you can see him physically grow back into the Shia we all grew up loving. Being back in the public eye was probably hard for him, especially when he is promoting a story as personal as this, but the interviews have periodically gotten better and better. We are able to accept Shia again, and that is what I love about being human. Comeback stories like this are what makes my heart melt, and so I entered into seeing this film with not the highest of expectations, but the highest of enthusiasm.
Honey Boy is something that cinema, as a whole, needs. Across the board, it has consistently been some of the best work of the year. The score is heartbreaking, the editing is magnificent, the directing is thoughtful, the script is honest, and the acting is otherworldly. This film does not only serve as therapy for LaBeouf, and showcase his growth over the course of the film. It serves as therapy and growth for the audience that gets to see it as well.
We open up with what is obviously a stand-in for Transformers and we meet up with 22-year-old Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges). He is filming scenes for the film and we see how he is dependent on alcohol and drugs. He is thrown in rehab, and just like how Shia had to deal with his rehab, Otis is tasked to recall memories from his past to deal with his PTSD from his father. From this moment on, we go back and forth throughout time from 22-year-old Otis in rehab to 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) in a motel with his father James (Shia LaBeouf). This film jumps back and forth between different moments of abuse between Otis and his father, but moments of love as well. James never offers warmth to his son, and never tells him he loves him, but you can see that he wants the best for him and he wants him to have a better life. James is selfish, and he might only be there cause Otis pays him, but his ultimate goal is for Otis to have the life James would have wanted. I think that realization for Otis, and for Shia as well, was what sparked the change in his life. This was the moment he was able to come to grips with this part of his life, forgive his father, and move on to something better.
Before I get to LaBeouf, I want to talk about Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges. First off, Hedges brings the same skill he brings to basically every role he is in. He is solidifying himself as one of the best actors of his generation. His range and ability to showcase powerful emotions are mesmerizing. He beautifully captures not only Shia’s mannerisms, but his vocal structure as well. LaBeouf manages to (almost in an easter egg sort of way) include some of his signature “sayings” from his films over the years. From his “no no no” he did all throughout his Transformers time to his “answer the question” he did in 2017s Borg Vs McEnroe, Hedges makes you wonder how exactly he was able to capture the style almost perfectly. Noah Jupe is equally as fantastic as Shia in almost every way. The role isn’t as personal for him as it is for Shia, but he perfectly showcases what it was like for him to have no experience in acting, still trying to learn how to get by, and living with an abusive father on top of it. You feel the most for his character, and you would be remiss if you didn’t feel for Shia as a person having to recount these memories in a different light.
And that is what makes Shia’s performance so heartbreakingly beautiful. It is the fact that these moments in his life were the ones that drove him to the cynical and narcissistic lifestyle he once had. Now, he is having to relive those moments not only through himself, but he has to be the one who causes these moments. From the times where his father abuses him and belittles him, all the way down to the way he pees, to how he pumps his son full of strength and claims to be his cheerleader, we get these moments done in excruciatingly heartfelt moments. This seems like a moment by Shia where he fully embraces all of the demons that have been lingering over him and was able to release them. His performance was personal, and because of what it was, it might be one of the hardest performances to pull of all year. He was heartbreaking and honest, and he deserves awards recognition when the time comes. Shia is one of the best actors of his generation. I have believed that from the start that there was something about him that stood out. This film will begin something new for him and prove he is a freight train of an actor.
This film is shot very well by Alma Har’el as well. With how passionate Shia is to this project, you can tell she brings the same amount of passion. The score also elevates this film as well with a sort of mechanical but natural feel to it. It is sweet and heartfelt and is perfectly placed to allow for some of the softer shots of Otis (12) and James to linger in a place of happiness. Natasha Braier brings her excellent use of neon to the cinematography as well but does a wonderful job of lighting the characters and keeping it honest throughout. There is love and heart all over this film, and it is nice to see a piece of art that means this much to someone. A true release for a person and a turning point for not only their career but their life as well.
Final: Shia LaBeouf lets us into the complexities of his mind and allows us to get a glimpse of what he has had to deal with. A film that will not only define his career but will also be seen as a turning point for his life. The performances are beautiful and the script is a cathartic powerhouse that will grip you. Across the board, this film is a powerhouse of everything it means to make art. SHIA LABEOUF OSCARS 2020!
My Score: *****
Current Tomato Score: 94%
Current Metacritic: 71
Current IMDb: 7.3/10
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