- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS An actor goes into therapy to untangle the abuse he suffered at the hands of his manager-father.
Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges
“My dad’s not the reason I drink. He’s the reason I work!”
If you ever wondered what a gender reversed, camp-free version of MOMMIE DEAREST might look like, here’s your answer. This warts-n-all auto-biographical tale about a child-actor managed by his abusive father is something of a therapy session for writer Shia LaBeouf. It’s a thinly veiled account of his own life in which he stars as his own father, one of the many, many extraordinary discoveries in the film. HONEY BOY also goes a long way to explaining some of the actor’s more erratic, heavily publicised moments over the last decade.
It opens shortly before a drug and alcohol dependant Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) is arrested for dangerous driving and sent into therapy. Flash back ten years and a younger Otis (Noah Jupe) is trying to carve out an acting career while his father James (LaBeouf) offers a steady stream of advice in his ear every step of the way. They live in a cheap motel, James’ moral code is less than conventional. Add his unrelenting and unrepentant emotional abuse and Otis is in line for a world of pain. We know this because we’ve already been with Otis to therapy.
Another of the extraordinary discoveries is how little ego LaBeouf applies to either the screenplay or his performance. HONEY BOY is raw, honest, unfiltered and is consequently, if counter-intuitively, a warm, inviting experience despite James’ aggressive bullying. You might spend most of the film on tenterhooks and there’s more than one ‘wire hangers’ scene, but they arrive organically as a pathway for us to understand the pain and love between Otis and James. There’s no sniggering. And as young Otis starts finding a way to push back against his father, you can feel the tide turning.
“You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t pay you”.
James claims to have the performance instincts of a rodeo clown, and knows his son has the kind of talent he could only ever dream of. Had he better fathering skills, his determination to do right by Otis may have met a very different outcome. Instead it gets heavier as his own pain becomes clearer. The anger and love makes for terrific drama. That LaBeouf could draw something so clean and honest from his own experience is yet another of the extraordinary things about his story.
The entire cast are thrilling, anchored by yet another terrific performance from LaBeouf (THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON) as he switches focus from himself to his father. Yet the standout is Jupe as young Otis. He is mesmerising, the fulcrum upon whom the entire film is balanced (even though you’re constantly drawn to the central conceit - abuse - and pray he has better management than LaBeouf had at his age). Given the writer’s recent history, you could expect HONEY BOY to be little more than a self-indulgent exercise in narcissism. Instead it’s a sincere, heartfelt portrait of a dysfunctional man doing his best to be a father, and the devastating results of his poor decisions.