Honey Boy – BFI London Film Festival 2019 Review

by Cora

After years away from the spotlight Shia LaBeouf is back. LaBeouf started his career by making his name on teen TV shows such as Even Stevens then slowly moving into blockbusters such as Transformers. This tumultuous life has made the actor one of the world’s most popular figures in pop culture but treated as a joke by this peers.

His last arrest in 2017 sent him in court order for rehab. It seems rehab wasn’t just a healing process for him but productive too. During this rehab, LaBeouf wrote his first screenplay – Honey Boy. The film revolves around the actor’s own childhood under the care of his alcoholic, drug-addicted and abusive father. The movie was presented for the first time at Sundance Film festival in January, following the success the movie, it has been played at Toronto International Film Festival then London Film Festival early October.

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The story of Honey Boy is simple: Otis (aged 22, played by Lucas Hedges) lands in rehab after a drunken altercation with the police. His therapist tells him he’s suffering from PTSD due to this childhood. As part of his recovery, he needs to recall his relationship with his father by writing it in a book.  From that moment, the movie develops two parallels threads: Otis in the present and struggling with this PTSD and 12 years old Otis (Noah Jupe) who is a successful child actor and has hired his Dad as his chaperone. Otis’s dad, James (Shia LaBeof), is an alcoholic and abusive parent, though he clearly cares for his son. James and Otis live between a shady motel room with two beds and TV set, spending their time together running lines, juggling, and listening to James’ stories of his glory days as a clown.

The first scene in Honey Boy rapidly illustrates how growing up on a movie set, living your life in the public eye, can demolish the border between reality and fiction. This is established vividly via Hedges’ incredible performance and a dynamic mise-en-scene. Alma Har’el surprises us with the bombastic open as we instantly become witnesses to the story, and we just have to follow.

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The strongest point of the movie are truly brilliant leading performances who are truly brilliant. Shia LaBeouf’s performance is breath-taking: he delivers the most personal performance and finds the right balance between empathy and forgiveness. He does not make an apology for the actions caused, but instead he shows us a piece of memory and an observation that kids can make of their own parents. Noah Jupe, for his part takes on the role of Young Otis like pro by pulling off an impressive and complex range of emotions. By delivering an amazing performance for his young age, he showcases how you can idolize your parents one minute, and be shattered by the cruel and cold lack of love the next.

At the end of the movie you feel like you have understood someone else’s life and how difficult it can be. Honey Boy is cinematic therapy; raw, painful, and brave. Shia LaBeouf signals a wonderful come back into the film industry as a screenwriter and an actor.

Honey Boy is out in cinemas 6th December

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