Honey Boy review: honest and engrossing

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Shia LaBeouf writes and stars in Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy – and here’s our review.

Honey Boy revolves around Otis Lort, a child actor turned Hollywood star who struggles with alcohol and substance abuse. Whilst attending rehab after an altercation with the police, Otis unearths his childhood pain as he tries to reconcile the past and heal the broken pieces of his soul.

The film is a raw portrayal of someone living under the abusive thumb of an over-bearing parent. The story isn’t easy. It also touches upon difficult subjects such as child exploitation, drug addiction, and more. Inside these agonising crevices, LaBeouf’s script and Alma Har’el’s direction deftly showcase the burden of childhood and juvenile Hollywood stardom. It’s not a simple film: it’s not about excavating demons in order to forgive abusers such as recent cinematic outings like The Glass Castle. Honey Boy shows the neverending road of recovery, in all its stubbornness and gruelling steps. It looks too at how past trauma can still inflict, but how empathy can help understand an abuser, no matter how hard it is. The movie doesn’t forgive, but it shows a path of alleviation for Otis and a difficult air of understanding aimed towards his father.

The film relies on the performances of LeBeouf, Hedges and young, relative newcomer Noah Jupe. LeBeouf plays a fictional form of his father. He’s almost unrecognisable as circus clown Lort James, using his son’s fame to hang his own Hollywood ambitions on whilst also taking money for drugs and pushing Otis to such a limit that it breaks him. LeBeouf tackles the performance with sheer force as someone so belittled by his own son’s fame yet will do anything to keep it. Lort struggles with being overshadowed by his own child and although he commits heinous acts, the script, direction and LeBeouf’s performance begs for understanding. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges play Otis at different moments. The former is astonishing as a young boy struggling with the weight of his celebrity and his over-bearing father. Hedges, as a now older but broken Otis, portrays visceral scenes with almighty understanding. Alma Har’el’s directorial debut is a stunning first outing.

Honey Boy is so beautifully filmed; a somewhat fever dream that unfolds past in fragments. From the beginning, Har’el has set out a distinct fictional voice: the opening and immediately (and purposefully) exhausting repetition of Hollywood sets and drowning sorrows with alcohol. While some moments of the fantastical don’t work, the film’s artistic flare feeling strained and unnecessary at times, this is still an almighty sucker-punch of a movie.

An artistic look at past torment in an unnerving but gripping way, Honey Boy is honest and authentic but wrought with anguish and pain. The movie showcases how messy confronting your demons are, especially when they are your parent or, sometimes, yourself. Har’el’s engrossing work lifts LeBeouf’s script off the page as the actor pours his soul into the story. It’s a daring piece: a noted form of cinematic therapy that hopefully will resonate with all and aide in the actor’s recovery.

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