Honey Boy

 

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A complex father/son relationship that plays out against the world of filmmaking.

 
Honey Boy

Noah Jupe with FKA Twigs
 

Although the end credits describe it as a work of fiction, Honey Boy has been promoted as being derived from the real-life relationship between Shia LaBeouf and his father. Indeed the father figure here, given the name of James Lort, is played by LaBeouf himself and it is he who is the author of the screenplay. In this treatment the son, Otis, has indeed grown up to be a film star and we see him at the age of twenty-two when he is starring in action movies. However, his behaviour lands him in trouble and we find him, as played by Lucas Hedges, undergoing therapy. Alcohol may have become his problem, but the diagnosis that he gets suggests that he is really a victim of PTSD and that his state is down to the way he was treated by his father in childhood. Consequently the film chooses to show him also at the age of twelve played by Noah Jupe. This is a period in his life when he was a successful child actor pushed by his father who, having had to accept the fact that his wife has left him, was nevertheless utterly resentful of having to rely on his young son to support him. The father's situation is further marked by the fact that he is a known sexual offender, even if his actions in that respect stopped short of actual rape. So if the adult Otis is a troubled man it is the outcome of having a father whose behaviour was frequently monstrous.

 

However much LaBeouf's real-life story has been elaborated here, this is the kind of material which needs to engage viewers in order to compensate for the fact that it is probably too downbeat to yield a commercially successful movie. Critical acclaim may well come its way (it has already picked up some awards), but it is directed by Alma Har'el as her first dramatic feature and personally I have found it difficult to admire her work. I felt that her first documentary feature, 2011's Bombay Beach, was much overrated and she directs Honey Boy like a filmmaker determined to parade her arty tendencies. Indeed, one wonders whether or not she had some influence on the screenplay which regularly and rather tiresomely keeps switching back and forth between the two time periods making that a key aspect of the film. But two flaws stand out even more: the fact that the scenes involving the adult Otis are much less interesting than those about his childhood (that's bad luck for that good actor Lucas Hedges) and the decision to open the film with shots that intercut scenes belonging to a film being made by Otis with others that belong to the story being told here (thankfully I knew that we were going to see Otis as an actor, but for anyone seeing the film with no foreknowledge of this the opening section must surely seem incomprehensible).

 

As presented, then, Honey Boy is a very poor example of storytelling. It's a work nearer in tone to Andrea Arnold's over-ambitious American Honey (2016) than to Sean Baker's far superior The Florida Project (2017) which also comes to mind. What does make it worth seeing despite what I regard as serious misjudgments are the performances given by LaBeouf and by Noah Jupe, both of them worthy of a better film. Yet Honey Boy does achieve something if viewed as an impressionistic portrait rather than as a story and it is striking that the attitude to the father figure, which might have been a look back in anger, emerges instead as utterly clear-sighted but at the same time forgiving.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs, Byron Bowers, Laura San Giacomo, Natasha Lyonne, Maika Monroe, Clifton Collins Jnr, Mario Ponce, Martin Starr.

 

Dir Alma Har'el, Pro Anita Gou, Alma Har'el, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Chris Leggett and Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Screenplay Shia LaBeouf, Ph Natasha Braier, Pro Des Jc Molina, Ed Dominic LaPerriere and Monica Salazar, Music Alex Somers, Costumes Natalie O'Brien.

 

Automatik/Delirio Films/Kindred Spirit/Stay Gold Features-Sony Pictures.
95 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 6 December 2019. Cert. 15.