The fictionalised cinematic memoir is an inherently self-indulgent genre, yet actor-turned-writer Shia LaBeouf and director Alma Har’el use this intense introspection to capture the interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts and contradictions of a tumultuous childhood. The resulting picture is brutal, honest, and unafraid to grapple with the legacy of pain and choice of forgiveness.
In terms of its visuals and performances, Honey Boy is faultless. Time and perspective jumps aside (featured most prominently in its bold opening sequence), the cinematography relishes the lights, colours, and small beauties of Otis’ surroundings. Even the seediest motel turns into a small paradise, putting viewers squarely in the perspective of a boy finding his place in the world. As the older Otis, Lucas Hedges’ confusion and rage are natural extensions of the younger Noah Jupe’s combination of world-weariness and wonder. As his father, LaBeouf does not shy away from recounting or performing horrors, but never loses his humanity.
The abuse Otis suffers at his father’s hands – mostly emotional, sometimes physical – creeps up on both subject and viewers; its everyday insidiousness is quietly taxing before its explosions devastate. The film’s handling of PTSD deserves special note; about a third of the way through the film, one of Otis’ companions in rehab responds to his dismissal of his diagnosis by laughing and saying that the illness is not something people like Otis – white, well-known, externally unharmed – should have. It is a joke made in solidarity and survival, speaking volumes about the way Otis and his fellow patients come to terms with lives and needs they do not yet fully understand.
Raw, uncompromising, and yet wholly non-judgemental, Honey Boy is a cinematic memoir for the ages. Its luxurious sun-soaked palette creates a dreamscape where loneliness is beautiful and abuse feels impossible, exploring the nuances of memory and family with grace.
CAST: Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, Shia LaBeouf, FKA Twigs, Natasha Lyonne, Martin Starr
DIRECTOR: Alma Har’el
WRITER: Shia LaBeouf
SYNOPSIS: Child star-turned-actor-turned-writer Shia LaBeouf dramatises his life as a child star and troubled relationship with his father in this inventive drama.