Written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alam Har’el. Honey Boy is a glimpse into Shia LeBeouf’s life as Otis, a young actor living with his dry-alcoholic father, James Lort.
Honey Boy starts with a montage of Otis’ downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse, car accident, and subsequent sentencing to rehab setting the stage for the telling of how Honey Boy came to be. Adult Otis, played by Lucas Hedges, gets the gift of rehab; although, he doesn’t quite see it that way at first. Stuck in a place where they are taught to hug themselves, knit, and count things in a room to calm down, Otis pushes back the system trying to help him. He’s angry about so many things but cannot articulate why or who. With the help of Dr. Moreno, played by Laura San Giacomo, Otis is encouraged to start write his memories down. It’s through this process, Otis begins to put the pieces of his life together and understand why he’s angry and self-destructive.
The memories are intermixed with Otis’s recovery in flashback. Young Otis, played by Noah Jupe, is a 12 year old actor in a popular kid’s show featuring crazy antics like pies in the face. It’s a hard schedule for anyone in show biz to be up early, be “on” for the show–know the lines and be willing to do whatever it takes for a laugh; but Otis is 12 and his guardian isn’t exactly father of the year. James Lort, played by Shia LeBeouf, is Otis’ father who had his turn at “fame” with his clown act complete with his chicken side kick. It’s clear James would rather be the star or somewhere else. He’s a narcissistic, dry alcoholic angry at the situation of having to ask his kid for money, angry for having to live in a broken down motel, angry for having to be the on set guardian while his wife lives at home and works. He smokes, he badgers people, he verbally abuses Otis. Otis holds his own. He’s a tough kid, he understands he’s the boss, and he’s embarrassed and disappointed by his father. Still at 12, Otis takes on adult behaviors like smoking and cussing all the while looking for some sort of approval from his father figure.
There are moments in the film when the light shines through for Otis but they are brief. An unlikely friendship with the Shy Girl, played by FKA Twigs, who shows him the only true tenderness of acceptance and love he was craving as a young boy. Tom, played by Clifton Collins Jr, is from the Big Brother group who takes Otis to baseball games giving Otis a glimpse of what it means to be in a loving father/son type of relationship. Then there are the quiet moments of seeing Otis without his father telling us more about their relationship, or lack thereof.
Honey Boy is an mental health exercise in looking at the past and letting it go. Shia LeBouf had to reach depths within himself to write these memories and give a glimpse into his life I’m not sure we needed to see. He validates himself, his existence, and his value to the world just by going through the process and writing this piece. The word knows he’s talented. We weren’t going to stop wanting to see his movies. I suppose writing a memoir would’ve been too cliche? The screen loves Shia so to bring the story full circle was needed for it to work. Playing his father had to be the second hardest thing he’s had to do; although, I cannot imagine anyone else playing the part. He couldn’t have done this without the support from the real doctor who encouraged him to write and Alma Har’el who helped bring his story to the screen. Noah Jupe plays young Otis with vulnerability, braveness, and authenticity. Lucas Hedges has Shia’s mannerisms down as well as vocal tempo with the wheels turning behind the eyes.
A wonderful story. A sad story. Not a tear-jerker for me. I mean, I felt bad for him but more than that, I felt happy for Shia/Otis for getting through this thing alive to tell his story. Now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer below.