TIFF Film #4 of 8
This is one of the most personal and cathartic films you’re likely to see this year. Written by Shia LaBeouf while he was in a court-ordered rehab facility, Honey Boy tells the story of his own childhood, growing up as a child-star in Hollywood with an abusive father. He doesn’t direct here, those responsibilities are handed off to Alma Har’el, making her feature-length narrative film debut after a small handful of well-received documentaries, music videos, and a short. He does, however, play his own father, in what must have been a terribly difficult role for him to inhabit. The story begins in 2005, where the Shia Labeouf stand-in, who is called Otis within the narrative and played by Lucas Hedges, is already deep into his acting career. We see him on expensive film sets, doing elaborate scenes involving explosions and harnesses, but much more importantly than that, we see him drinking, and drinking to excess. All of this partying comes to a head when he is in a drunk-driving accident, and in lieu of jail-time he is sent to a rehabilitation centre. It is here that we begin to flashback to his childhood, when he was just beginning his career, and the story of him and his relationship to his father starts to unfold. The young Otis is played by Noah Jupe, who you may recognize from last year’s A Quiet Place, or 2017’s Wonder. He does an excellent job, playing the part with a such a precise form of vulnerability and sadness pulled directly from the real life of his co-star and screenwriter. He and Shia LaBeouf are the only two on screen for most of the film’s most important moments, and while I can’t really go in to specifics without feeling like I’m spoiling the magic, I can say every single scene they share together is nothing short of remarkable. Shia LaBeouf as his own father is a lot more than just a career-best performance, it is that, but I also don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. This story is so deeply personal and private, to the point that you feel like you shouldn’t even be allowed to watch it, but it’s also very universal about so many things. I wouldn’t call Honey Boy a coming-of-age tale necessarily, but it is certainly adjacent to that type of storytelling. But much more than that it is a story about trauma and abuse and addiction, and eventually perseverance and forgiveness.