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Fame is a tricky thing, especially for child actors. They grow up in the public eye, and it's often that they wind up taking one of two paths: either famous or infamous. One such actor that has been on both sides of the line is Shia LaBeouf. While he first captured hearts in Disney's TV comedy Even Stevens, he graduated to major blockbusters, while also being the subject of some controversy over the years. He's now channeled this life experience into the new drama Honey Boy, which he wrote, produced, and stars in.
Honey Boy is based on Shia Lebouf's life, although he's changed the characters' names for the movie — including his own. The film follows actor Ortis Lort as both a young actor working in TV and an adult in a rehabilitation center. As a kid he's played by A Quiet Place's Noah Jupe, and is shown living with his father in a cheap motel while building his career. Boy Erased's Lucas Hedges plays Otis as an adult, who has found success performing, but faces personal demons as a result of trauma.
The story of Honey Boy shifts between these two points in Otis' life. Director Alma Har'el impressively balances both stories, with the pair of actors sharing the spotlight as the fictional version of Shia LeBouf. While the 33 year-old actor was obviously deeply connected to the material, allowing Har'el to direct seems a wise idea. Instead, he could focus on his own writing and performance, playing James Lort, Otis' father.
By pivoting between two time periods, Honey Boy really fleshes out its protagonist
Balancing between two different timelines can sometimes weigh a movie down, and fatten up its length. We saw this recently with The Goldfinch, but that's not the case with Honey Boy. On the contrary, each version of Otis helps inform the others' decisions. By the end of the movie, the audience truly has an understanding of the character's history and trauma. And it might just inspire some extra empathy for LeBouf himself as you understand the origins of the material.
In his different parts of the production, Shia LeBeouf is a tour-de-force. Despite being the true subject of the story, LeBeouf doesn't pull any punches with his screenplay. While actors like him may appear to have a glamorous life, he wrenches back the curtain to reveal his truth. Because although Otis is on TV as an actor, he's living in a cheap hotel with his emotionally abusive father. And when he's older starring in big action movies (there's a great Transformers nod early in the film), Otis is in an outpatient treatment center for his mental health.
Honey Boy is a powerful moment for Shia LeBouf, as his screenplay and performance are gritty, honest, and emotional.
The script is vicious at times, especially where Otis' father is concerned. James Lort's inferiority complex oozes of the character's pores, as he lashes out at everyone and everything he comes into contact with. This includes his son, despite James being paid to be his warden and caretaker during filming. The character's verbal and emotional manipulations cut throughout Honey Boy's runtime. And this is all the more powerful considering Shia LeBouf is playing his own father.
Aside from the strengths of Honey Boy's screenplay, Shia Lebouf gives a stellar performance as James — one of the strongest of his career. He perfectly balances the character's different sides, and showed how the pattern of abuse from the inside. LeBeouf is vulnerable and emotionally cut off at the same time, and it's especially impressive considering his close personal connection to the subject matter.
Alma Har'el’s direction of Honey Boy takes the right amount of creative risks, crafting a sensory experience that elevates the otherwise gritty tale.
Honey Boy is a particularly interesting theatrical experience thanks to Alma Har'el's direction, and the select creative risks she takes. While the movie is very much grounded in realism, there are some surreal moments throughout. The film's ending especially leans on more abstract cinematography. Some will really enjoyed this departure, although it has the potential to take moviegoers by surprise.
Honey Boy succeeds because Shia LeBeouf manages to tell an autobiographical story with gut wrenching honesty. And it just might change your perspective of the filmmaker.