Honey Boy Movie Review
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Raw, original and boldly orchestrated therapy session in disguise as an explanation for the bizarre life behavior of one Shia LeBeouf. Selected for the 50th anniversary of the Nashville Film Festival, Honey Boy is experimental “cinematic psychotherapy” for the film’s writer LeBeouf that received resounding applause from festival attendees.
While in rehab following his arrest for public drunkenness, LeBeouf penned autobiographical essays about his upbringing. He shared these thoughts with filmmaking partner Alma Ha’rel who encouraged and collaborated with the actor to turn his thoughts into a screenplay and film.
That resulting film opens to Otis Lort (played by Lucas Hedges) [LeBeouf] in his early-20’s. He’s shooting what seems to be a Michael Bay-like action film when he’s suddenly sucked into the background setpiece from some sort of specialized stunt rig. “No, no, no, no, no!” he screams. A montage follows showcasing a greatest hits reel of intoxicated aggression culminating in Otis’s DUI and subsequent sentencing to rehab.
LeBeouf was diagnosed with PTSD in rehab, attributed to the childhood trauma he experienced, including overhearing his mother’s rape and living with his alcohol and drug-addicted father. Ha’rel cleverly employs that condition to transport viewers back to when Otis was much younger. A 12-year-old Otis (played by Noah Jupe) is living with his father out of a janky L.A. motel resembling that of The Florida Project while shooting some unknown children’s television show.
The film’s most brilliant casting is that of Shia LeBeouf himself, playing the part of Otis’s dad James Lort. While generally depicted as an abusive insecure miscreant, my perception of LeBeouf in this role is that he’s using the time therapeutically, as if to say, “I empathize with this man. I was this man. I forgive him.” The actor does not seem to blame his father for his addictions, because he too shares in those addictions, but rather he’s sending a message that as a child he was starving for affection. In fact, James spends a great deal of energy pounding his chest (see asserting dominance), while Otis yearns for love that doesn’t come.
Honey Boy continues to kick back and forth between timelines, as older Otis continues through his treatment. There’s a recurring bit of symbolism born from James’ days as a rodeo clown; where he performed an acrobatic routine with a stunt chicken. This routine is an especially important memory of Otis/LeBeouf’s, so Ha’rel uses the cluckers to tie timelines together. James even has a joke that sort of represents LeBeouf’s assessment of himself: that little white nucleus at the center of all chicken shit…is chicken shit.
LeBeouf is human and makes mistakes like the rest of us, just that his mistakes happen to be more noticeable. But so are his successes. Honey Boy should be included in that discussion as it is an exceptional example of LeBeouf’s talents as a writer and actor. I’m sure we’ll be including his name in awards talks. He’s surrounded by great actors as well, most notably Jupe who holds his own against an actor working through real demons he’s determined to exorcise. Here’s to hoping Honey Boy was a transformative experience.