“I Don’t Need to Talk About My Dad” – Honey Boy (BFI London Film Festival Review)

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Actor-writer Shia LaBeouf has had quite the career. Bursting onto the scene as a Disney Channel child star in Even Stevens before catapulting to blockbuster stardom with the Transformers movies, LaBeouf seemed destined for new Hollywood A-lister status. Instead, he took quite a different path. Rejecting Hollywood, LaBeouf began to put more of his focus in performance art, as well as continuing to take on a variety of roles that felt distinctly different from the Hollywood A-lister path. He also, for a time, became a figure who populated headlines for drunk and disorderly behaviour. 

Such behaviour landed him in a rehabilitation centre, where he came to be diagnosed with PTSD, something which became attributed to the time spent under his father’s care when he was first starting out as a young actor. That experience has led to LaBeouf to form a screenplay focused around facing this trauma head-on in Honey Boy, the kind of cinematic memoir that shows courage, rage, and grace in its telling of one boy’s specific upbringing, and what kind of effect that has on the man he eventually becomes. 

Not only is this LaBeouf’s story, but he also takes on the rather daunting task of playing a version of his own father. While the names and circumstances may be changed, there’s no hiding from the fact that this all comes from some very deep well, and that is none more evident than in LaBeouf’s portrayal of his father.

A man with a taste for theatrics and self-destruction, there are moments where his father comes across as genuinely caring, only to be undercut by a violent outrage, a selfish intent and a loss of control when it comes to substances. LaBeouf’s performance is nothing short of outstanding as he puts himself in his own father’s headspace in a truly heartbreaking effort to better understand him, as well as grapple with the traits that they share. This film feels like a crucial piece of his own therapy, and when you see just how much LaBeouf is throwing into his performance you can’t help but be in awe of and in heart-aching pain for him. One truly hopes that such an experience has been a healthy and worthwhile process for him. 

The conflicted sense of devotion, anger, gratefulness, and pity that LaBeouf seems to hold for his father is both exhibited through his performance and through the performances of Lucas Hedges’ as a 20-something LaBeouf surrogate (here the character is called Otis) and Noah Jupe as his younger self. Hedges eerily captures the body language and speech patterns of LaBeouf and makes an impression in a role that largely serves as a narrative bridge. It is Jupe who startles most, performing with a wisdom beyond his years to give a sense that this is a child who knows full well the risk of keeping his father around, but who can’t bear to let him go just yet. 

The very personal nature of the film may prove a little alienating for some, particularly as it ends up almost running around in circles in terms of drama, restricting itself to pretty much just two locations (the rehab clinic older Otis stays at and the cheap Motel that the younger Otis and his father reside). Yet, director Alma Har’el keeps the whole thing moving with a dream-like grace. It has a beautiful rawness to its imagery that often takes on the feeling of an out-of-body experience, befitting LaBeouf’s screenplay which battles with reconciliation. 

It is this sense of reconciliation with a loved one who has hurt you that should allow for this very particular experience to resonate with many the world over. To see someone grapple with such a personal trauma in such a public way is nothing short of fascinating. Everyone involved seems dedicated to crafting an experience that feels cathartic and ultimately hopeful. The fact that it does on occasion feel a little messy is something which kinda comes with the territory. This is LaBeouf speaking from the heart, and there’s a great sense of warmth to his voice, a voice which comes out the other side with a sense that this pain isn’t going anywhere, but at least now there is a way to discuss it. 

Dir: Alma Har’el

Scr: Shia LaBeouf

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, Byron Bowers, FKA Twigs, Clifton Collins Jr, Martin Starr, Laura San Giacomo, Natasha Lyonne, Maika Monroe

Prd: Anita Gou, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Chris Leggett, Daniela Talin Lundberg

DOP: Natasha Braier

Music: Alex Somers

Country: USA

Year: 2019

Run time: 93 mins

Honey Boy will be on general release in the UK from December 6th 2019.

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