Honey Boy is Shia LeBeouf’s passion project, based on his childhood relationship with his father. He wrote the screenplay and plays his father in the film. The movie already functions as a devastatingly true to life exhibition of the father-son dynamic and the ways that childhood trauma can affect a person into adulthood. Seeing LeBeouf leave everything he has on the screen both in the portrayal of his father and in his writing, one can’t help but be profoundly affected by this film. Noah Jupe, who audiences can also see in Ford v Ferrari this Fall, plays Otis (the stand-in for LeBeouf) at twelve years old, while Lucas Hedges plays him at twenty-two years old, broken down with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and going through alcohol rehab for the fourth time. The film functions by jumping between the two periods in Otis’ life, the majority of the time spent on his youth. By doing so, it succeeds in showing how Otis’ debilitating relationship with his father at a young age has broken him down and made him an adult with serious demons, inhibiting him from leading a normal life.
The trauma that Otis suffers at the hands of his father as a young boy is significant. They live in poverty, surviving solely on the earnings of Otis’ success as a young television actor. Otis’ father is extremely aggressive, with no sense of how to comfort a child and instill in them feelings of love. The portrayal of their relationship by the two actors is truly remarkable, with both Shia LeBeouf and Noah Jupe wowing in their performances and playing off each other brilliantly. There is an evident spark of on-set chemistry, with LeBeouf bringing out the best in Jupe and vice versa. Director Alma Har’el, who comes on to direct her first narrative feature, best known for her Tribeca award-winning documentary Bombay Beach (2011), does an impeccable job of capturing these larger than life performances and adding a modest amount of directorial touches throughout.
With Lucas Hedges and the segment of the narrative that follows Otis as a troubled adult living in his father’s shadow, we see how different aspects of that relationship are still present with him ten years later. He goes through sessions with a therapist at the rehab center and is barely able to complete them without anger-fueled outbursts, eerily reminiscent of the ones we see his father have with the young boy looking on helplessly. However, as we see Otis talk out his past with the therapist and other people at the rehab center, he appears to make progress and come to terms with his life. Lucas Hedges portrays the trauma and the internal struggle of Otis beautifully, giving his most layered performance to date. With this role, he shows more emotion than his prior work has indicated he would. He is able to convey pure pain and then growth, as a character. With this performance, we can see how Hedges further develops as an actor on the rise with a bright future.
Honey Boy has the feeling of an artist telling their story and doing so with a deep amount of passion and resolution. The film’s greatest flaw is its inability to come to a conclusion with an emotional payoff, falling back on an ending that only says, “this is my story.” Perhaps Shia doesn’t need to tie it all together with a neat bow as his story and where he is in life speaks for itself, but as a cohesive film, it seems to end with something of a whimper. It’s a film that is guaranteed to leave an impression and make one consider their own childhood and its effect on their life today. Shia LeBeouf clearly put his soul into this film and with his truly brilliant performance and the outstanding work from both Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges rounding out his vision, this is a film that longtime fans of the troubled actor should see and everyone should be thrilled to experience.