I recently watched the film Honey Boy (2019) written by Shia LaBeouf about his early life as a child actor and his time in rehab. I have been interested in this film since I saw the trailer and I have been waiting for it to come on to streaming services. A few days ago, I noticed that it was now on Amazon Prime so I watched it. This film really stuck with me and taught me about how to structure a film and how trauma can affect you even if you have had a relatively trauma free life. I am glad that Shia LaBeouf made this film as it was very powerful and I think it was a great film to come from childhood trauma.
Honey Boy is based on Shia LaBeouf’s life but with times and characters renamed. It focuses on Otis, an actor and how as an adult he relives his childhood in rehab and learns about his mental health. Otis was a child actor and chaperoned by his father but his father is an alcoholic and takes out his anger with emotional and sometimes physical abuse. The film is shot with flashbacks to Otis’ childhood and then his recovery in a rehabilitation facility.
I think it shows how rich and powerful the script and the belief in the director is to have a female director narrate this story. It is from a male perspective about male relationships; father and son; roommates at rehab; an all-male AA meeting; the Big Brother programme but I think Alma Har’el added some great narrative and design choices to an already strong script. Her directive decisions elevated the film to include great visuals along with the story. I applaud the producers and studio for promoting a female director especially someone who had never done a narrative film before Honey Boy. I think this example goes to show that women are just as capable as men when it comes to being behind the camera.
The cast’s performances especially of Noah Jupe as 12 year old Otis and Shia LaBeouf as Otis’ father were what made me think about this film for hours after watching. Personally, it was some of the most emotional and heart-wrenching acting I have seen. Their relationship and the use of the word PTSD when referring to Otis’ childhood really made me question how our mental health works and how trauma manifests itself. As a child, Otis appears relatively balanced apart from smoking and some crying but he doesn’t carry the weight that 22 year old Otis does. He is played by Lucas Hedges who took the character of Otis but through his voice and body language presented us with Shia LaBeouf from that time period and really connected both versions. The public and the media all know about Shia LaBeouf’s drinking, rehab and prison time but his childhood was a mystery. More liberties were taken with Otis’ character at this time as Shia himself hadn’t become the person he turns into but Noah Jupe gave us an emotionally traumatised child actor who we could associate with LaBeouf.
Noah Jupe is really up and coming as an actor and I think this is his strongest performance of his career so far. The roles I have seen him in such as Jack Will in Wonder; Peter Miles in Les Mans ’66 and Marcus in A Quiet Place are all side characters and serve to aid the main character(s) but this is his first real lead role as he is the titular ‘Honey Boy’. He had a great depth to his emotions and even though the story and his experiences are far removed from my own but I really empathised with his situation and it made me think about how I relate to my own experiences in life. I was surprised to learn that he is British as most of his performances include him speaking in a very convincing American accent. I think Noah Jupe is definitely one to watch because as he is this good at 15, just think how good he is going to be in five, ten years.
Shia LaBeouf’s performance obviously came from a deep and painful place and confronting his dad’s words and actions by embodying this character of James based on his father. I haven’t seen a character quite like James, every word and action towards Otis was either criticising or pressurising him. There were no real kind words said as every positive was as the result of mean words said or as a way to emotionally manipulate him. A clever narrative device was James telling his story in AA and this gave him a softer personality but Otis later reveals that his AA story is an amalgamation of other AA stories and I think this sums up the character. Another line that you can hear in the trailer above that really hit to the heart of James was ‘If I didn’t pay you, you wouldn’t be here’.
I knew that Shia LaBeouf wrote this story when he was in rehab which he is shown doing in Honey Boy and was going to be playing his own father but I had no idea of the trauma and scenarios that he went through. Many people thought unfavourably of Shia LaBeouf after his stint in prison and rehab and I feel this film gives reasons to his actions and I certainly didn’t know that Shia LaBeouf suffered from PTSD and from watching Even Stevens as a child, I never would have suspected what was going on behind the scenes. If you are interested in the history of the film and more of the backstory, watch the interview below where Shia LaBeouf talks about Honey Boy on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
I really enjoyed Honey Boy and I think it is such a special film that has really taught me about film-making and how to structure a film. I thought the story was so well shown and I liked all the little call backs that linked the two timelines. The scene with the harness at the beginning that the versions of Otis go through is a great way to create unity between both versions of Otis. There are also similarities between things that Otis learns at 12 years old then regurgitates at 22. Even though the actors Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe do not look very similar, these small callbacks and similarities help to convince the audience that they are the same person. There were some very artistic shots with the lighting and angles that conveyed the emotions of the characters and added a documentary feel. This was Alma Har’el including her own documentary background.
Overall this film is a great watch and I would highly recommend to anyone especially those who work in or aspire to work in film and anyone that wants to learn about how trauma can affect you throughout your life. This film gets a 10/10 from me.