Film review: ‘HONEY BOY’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Honey Boy is a slightly fictionalised account of Shia LaBeouf’s life as a child actor and later as a troubled young man screaming his way through therapy in a rehab facility. Given the less-than-flattering response to some of his performances, the idea of a film based on the life of Shia LaBeouf, starring the man himself, will, for many movie-goers, be extremely unwelcome.   This isn’t the first film to feature the subject of the biopic in the film itself. Muhammad Ali appeared in The Greatest, Howard Stern in Private Parts and Eminem in 8 Mile. At first, the aroma of self-indulgence is hard to ignore in Honey Boy but potent performances from the entire cast dispel most of our reservations.

Here, go-to-guy for troubled young male characters, Lucas Hedges plays Otis Lort a prolific actor whose alcoholism and anti-social behaviour land him in a rehab program. There, counselling sessions excavate agonising memories of his life as a 12-year-old actor (Noah Jupe) living with father James (Shia LaBeouf) in a scuzzy motel. James is depicted as a bitter resentful, self-pitying and at times violent alcoholic stage dad who expounds self-righteous delusional philosophies while living off his son’s earnings. With his wired-rimmed glasses and receding mullet, LaBeouf is a particularly unpleasant site, something made worse by the fact that James occasionally appears as a clown who does a weird chicken balancing act.

Often filmed with Otis and his dad in the close-quarters environment of their motel room, the film is frequently tense and uncomfortable. We genuinely feel and fear for young Otis who’s played with a mix of hopeful innocence and growing world weariness by Jupe. The mood is enhanced by a dramatic but not overbearing score from Alex Somers.

It must have been a strange experience for Mr LaBeouf to play a man based on his father. While he makes James Lort mostly detestable, he doesn’t render him entirely one dimensional instead giving him a shred of pathos. As the older Otis, Hedges effectively conveys the scarring of family violence and a damaged childhood. There’s also fine support from Laura San Giacomo as Oti’s rehab therapist and from singer FKA Twigs as a tough but compassionate neighbour who comforts Otis.

While the film convincingly captures traumatic memories of an ugly and destructive environment, it suffers from a limited and repetitive storyline. While it is to some extent appropriate to convey the miserable treadmill of the characters’ lives, the plot here seems a little too static.

Limited as it is, Honey Boy offers a convincing and unsettling look at families on society’s lower rungs and the dark side of the Hollywood dream.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Alma Har’el.

Release date: 27th Feb 2020.

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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