Movie Review: Honey Boy

“Make me look good, Honey Boy.”

– Shia LaBeouf as James Lort

By Cain Dennis

Shia LaBeouf wrote and stars in Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy”. This film is a strange one, its like a look into Shia LaBeouf’s head as he dissects his troubled childhood and early adulthood. Shia LaBeouf is a figure whose name carries a certain amount of controversy, many people see him as just “The crazy actor” when he really is a talented performer. Over the past five or so years, he has turned in some seriously great performances in films like “Fury” and last year’s fantastic and heartwarming “The Peanut Butter Falcon”. Alma Har’el directs this film, but it really comes across as Shia’s project, and I can tell that he poured a lot of himself into this, its an extremely personal, cathartic story that is adapted from his own experiences. “Honey Boy”, taken from LaBeouf’s father’s nickname for him, gives us a mainline look directly into the psyche of someone who grew up in and was criticized by the public eye for the majority of his young life. I have no doubt that making this film was an important and therapeutic process for LaBeouf, but it is just unfortunately not very entertaining.

In “Honey Boy”, we are subjected to long sequences of young and older Otis (as a stand-in for Shia) juxtaposed against each other, seeing how certain events and experiences mirror each other at different points in his life. A couple of these scenes work but most drag on for far too long with relatively little payoff. My favorite scenes are the ones with Noah Jupe playing young Otis with LaBeouf playing his father James. The scenes with Lucas Hedges playing older Otis in rehab are some of the least entertaining in the film. Shia LaBeouf playing a version of his own father is easily the most compelling part of the film and his performance is very good. I’m glad that Shia LaBeouf decided to tell this story, because it is powerful to see him totally bare his soul on the screen, digging deep to play a character based on someone who hurt him very deeply, I just wish that this amazing performance was part of a better film. I found this film’s pacing to be very poor, and for a movie that lasts just over an hour and a half, I kept finding myself wondering when it was going to find a way to end, and when it did, I didn’t find the conclusion very satisfying.

“Honey Boy” is competently shot and edited but it falls short in a lot of areas in my opinion. Rather than a traditional narrative film, it almost plays out as a non-linear letter of forgiveness from LaBeouf to his abusive, previously estranged father. In that way, it works and the emotion that comes through is very clear, but I do not feel that this film works as a complete package. Unless you are very interested in seeing inside Shia LaBeouf’s head and experiencing his struggles, its hard to recommend this film, I think that you would really have to already care a lot about LaBeouf to get what this film wants you to take from it. I feel sympathetic to the characters but the movie paints them in a way that makes them difficult to relate to in a meaningful way. It’s a challenging watch, and I would usually find that a positive thing, art in all forms should challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable, I find that truly challenging films can teach us a lot about the medium and sometimes even ourselves, but “Honey Boy” lacks substance beyond just you feeling bad for the characters. It’s a difficult hour and a half viewing for all the wrong reasons.

I’m going to give “Honey Boy” a rating of

4/10

I want to take a moment to give special thanks to Evansville’s Showplace Cinemas South for starting their Arthouse program. I wouldn’t have had a chance to see this film without it. If you’re local to the area, please consider checking out films in their Arthouse lineup so that we can continue to see interesting independent films and new voices.

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