The Stream: Too self-referential for its own good.
The Big Screen: Great chemistry between the two lead actors.
The Final Bill: Almost like reading someone’s diary that you don’t really care about – intriguing but unsatisfying.
-Trip FontaineRuntime: 1 hour 34 minutes
Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual material and drug use)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges
Director: Alma Har’el
Writer: Shia LaBeouf
First, I was tempted to title this review “Honey Boy Don’t Care,” but Honey Boy do care.
Yes, friends, we saw “the Shia LaBeouf movie”, Honey Boy, this weekend. It has been marketed as “the Shia LaBeouf movie”, and it plays like that in more than one way. Honey Boy is a fictionalized account of the life of the former child star struggling in rehab and his memory of working as a 12-year-old and being chaperoned by his unreliable, abusive, felon and recovering addict father. The film was written by LaBeouf through his most recent rehab stay; and it is directed by Alma Har’el. Necessarily, there is a metafictional aspect to the plot, and it becomes too self-referential for its own good.
Honey Boy sets the main character, played by Lucas Hedges, off on his destructive road to the rehab that will force him to deal with the effects of his time with his father. Hedges plays the 22-year-old LaBeouf surrogate named Otis that leads us to the meat of the movie. Noah Jupe plays the 12-year-old Otis, and LaBeouf, himself, plays the fictionalized version of his own father named James. Setting aside all of the self-referential, self-consciously, metafictional stuff, Jupe and LaBeouf are fantastic together. Jupe is heartbreaking in the role, at once loving and fearing his father. The relationship between father and son is fraught and heavy – each scene between the two is electric. LaBeouf is mesmerizing both because his portrayal is great, but also, because you know he’s channeling the character from real life experience. He expresses the damage, rage and empathy he must have been able to find in his father.
Now, what makes LaBeouf’s performance so good is also what makes some of the movie feel empty. The Lucas Hedges parts are supposed to be the raw portrayal of the consequences of the Jupe/LaBeouf parts of the film, but they fall flat. You always want more of Jupe and LaBeouf as their characters playing off each other. Hedges’ portray is one note and his rehab scenes aren’t particularly interesting.
There are some great sequences aside from that. The direction of Alma Har’el shows that she cares about all these characters. FKA Twigs has a special part that leads to a cool scene between her and Jupe. They’re just filled with innocence and fun. It very tender.
Honey Boy plays best when it’s just grappling with the tension between the demons of the father and the needs of the son. It is difficult to put aside the specter of Shia LaBeouf when he’s front-and-center for much of the movie, but that somehow seems to mostly affect the parts concerning the 22-year-old. If you don’t care about his journey in rehab, then those parts of the movie just don’t work. While I think that Honey Boy is a good movie particularly because of Shia LaBeouf and Noah Jupe, a trip to the theater isn’t warranted.