Photos | Automatik Entertainment
Parenting is a complex endeavor, and sometimes you feel like no matter what you do or how hard you try, you’re somehow messing up your kids. But for some parents, it is exceedingly obvious that you are messing up your kids, and Shia LaBeouf portrays just such a parent in “Honey Boy.” Unfortunately for him, “Honey Boy” is based on real life, and the troubled but talented actor wrote the story of his childhood into this painful, moving film as part of his own psychological recovery process.
I have always liked LaBeouf, ever since he was in “Holes,” which is a great little movie based on a great kids’ book, but now that I know what he was going through as a child actor, I feel almost guilty for watching it. Honestly, I don’t know if I can enjoy watching these adorable, talented kids on screen anymore thinking about the life of a child actor. And “Honey Boy” has a wonderful child actor in it; Noah Jupe gives a powerful and winning performance as 12-year-old Otis, the film’s stand-in for young LaBeouf.
Otis’s father, James, is a failed performer, a recovering drug addict and a convicted felon. A one-time rodeo clown who is still trying to impress women on set with stories about his performing chicken, James resents his son’s success as an actor, even while letting the child support him. He expresses this resentment through various unhealthy methods such as humiliation related to genital size, rebuffing the kid’s attempts to hold his hand and other approaches that might fall under the general umbrella of “tough love.”
If one of your parents employed this tough love approach, you might be able to relate on some level, but ask yourself: Has your father ever abused you while dressed as a rodeo clown? Have you ever competed with a chicken for your father’s affection? Reader, I hope your answers are no. Flashbacks to this horrendously colorful childhood, in which Otis and his father live in a seedy motel while Otis is making a TV show and his father is his on-set guardian, are intercut with young adult Otis, played by Lucas Hedges. At both ages, Otis is introduced hanging from a wire for a stunt on a set, and this provides a memorable and effective image for us to think about as we consider the life of a performer.
It’s not too surprising to think that the little boy we meet in “Honey Boy” grows up to be the real life actor who attended a film festival with a paper bag over his head that read, “I’m Not Famous Anymore.” Alas, that event does not make it into this film, but LaBeouf’s real life problems with drunk driving and public intoxication are dramatized by Hedges, who is sent to rehab. It is there where he decides to write a film about his trauma.
When Otis informs his father of his plan to make a movie about him, his father says, “Make me look good.” And despite the unflinching portrayal of paternal manipulation, degradation, violence and opportunism, not to mention a terrible mullet and literal clown makeup, the portrait LaBeouf paints of his father is not without empathy and love. This love is tough to watch sometimes, and it will have you cancelling that screen test you scheduled for your darling child. “Honey Boy” shows a very dark side of fame with an unsentimental approach.
It would have been interesting to see more of the older version of Otis, which is closer to the version of LaBeouf when he wrote this film. And you could argue LaBeouf creates this opportunity to let his adult self off the hook for his problems, by showing us his background. Still, compassion is hard to argue with, especially when someone extends it to the vulnerable, child version of themselves. And if you were raised by a really bitter rodeo clown and had the ability and opportunity to make a movie about it, you would probably make that movie, too. Indeed, LaBeouf showed amazing restraint in letting someone else direct it, and the result is an interesting looking, but sometimes hard to watch, coming-of-age tale.
“Honey Boy” is available to stream.
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