Released: 27th February
Seen: 4th September
Shia LeBouf is certainly an interesting actor with a progression that’s worthy of discussion. He started as a child star, spent the later part of the 2000’s being a mainstream star in the Transformers movies and then seemed to fall into the indie film scene where he’s basically stayed ever since. If you’ve just followed the broad strokes of his career it’s been one hell of a ride, and that’s before we get to his personal issues which lead him to having a stay in rehab in 2017. This ends up being important here because during that rehab, Shia began to write the script that would eventually become Honey Boy.
Honey Boy is a very autobiographical story, and clearly so if you have even a passing knowledge of Shia’s career. In the movie the main kid is named Otis (Lucas Hedges & Noah Jupe, depending on the time the scene takes place) and he’s a young actor trying to make it while also dealing with his father James (Shia LeBouf) who is often distant and mildly abusive. The film jumps between young Otis trying to do his job as an actor even with his father making things difficult and adult Otis going through rehab and coming to terms with the effects his upbringing had on him.
If you boil it down, Honey Boy, is Shia LeBouf’s therapy session. He literally wrote this while in rehab as part of the program and there is a tiny element of this that feels like we shouldn’t be seeing it, like it’s so personal that we’re invading his privacy. The film takes a moment to really open up, it’s almost guarded and afraid to let us in to see the pain but when we finally get the glimpses of the trauma this script was designed to get out, it’s like we’re finally given a chance to actually see Shia himself for the first time in his career. There’s a lot of moments while watching this it almost felt like I should just leave the room for Shia’s sake, but he put this out there and it’s powerful as hell.
The powerhouses of Honey Boy are Shia and Noah who tend to share the most important scenes of the films, namely the ones that make the audience feel the most voyeuristic. Every performance in this film is absolutely amazing, grounded and realistic in a way that you only get when it’s this personal to the creatives but the relationship portrayed between Shia and Noah is one of the most emotional elements of the film. Any scene with the two of them is a tour de force in acting, both of them basically carry the emotional weight for the entire film and make every moment intensely watchable and realistic. Hell, they are so good that their performances are why this film feels like we’re invading someone’s privacy.
Just as an experiment in filming someone’s therapy session, this is fascinating to behold. There is no perfectly happy ending, no well trodden progression, it’s just elements of a person’s real life that they’ve mildly edited in order to present it to an audience and I have to admit that I might be more fascinated by the process that went into this than the actual film itself. Knowing this came as part of a therapeutic session helps make it stand out as something unique and fascinating. We’ve certainly seen stories about people going to rehab to deal with past trauma, hell that was the literal framing device to Rocketman so it’s not like that storyline is new to audiences, but I’ve never known one to be this truly personal.
Honey Boy is a good film that’s made into something special by the circumstances surrounding it. With some great leading performances and a script written by a man who just bares his soul for all to see, it’s certainly not a film to be taken lightly.