Written for RAF News November 2019
Loving affection overshadows the abusive relationship between a child actor and his father.
Written by Shia LaBeouf as a ‘therapy project’, Honey Boy is set around the point in his life when he was the star of a Disney show, captured here as 12 year old Otis (Noah Jupe). Achieving success that would soon bloom into a film career the film focusses instead on the damage of these formative years, jumping back and forward through time to reveal the beginnings of what would later be diagnosed as PTSD.
Opening with a dizzingly assembled montage tracking the successes and exploits of Otis in his 20s (Lucas Hedges), the line is blurred between the person on and off screen. It appears that LaBeouf aims to explain his tabloid notoriety of being drunk and disorderly (arrested for such behaviour as late as July 2017 when shooting recent release Peanut Butter Falcon). The point of both trauma and inspiration appears to be Otis’ father James Lort, a hardened rodeo clown with a a chip from AA and a permanently blocked nose from cocaine abuse, played with phenomenal depth by LeBeouf himself. James is a performer who never made it, belittling his son’s achievements whilst being completely dependant on them, pocketing the per diem and leaving Otis to steal food from the catering on set.
Acting as his son’s vicious cheerleader, there is a fascinating dual quality at play. Young Otis represents the vulnerable and rage-filled child who desperately wants his father’s love, trying and failing to hold his hand in public. Constantly confronted by his failures, LeBeouf, that same little boy grown up, captures the shameful but dedicated part of the father, closing the gap of understanding by putting himself in the role. Our awareness of the actor and the material adds such complexity that the catharsis is palpable.
The chemistry between Jupe and LaBeouf is incredible, at once reviled and idolised, theirs is a complicated relationship that requires much empathy. Filled with comedy and darkness, more often than not holding one within the other. It reminds of last years Ladybird, and perhaps it’s director Alma Har’el that lends a tenderness that creeps in and takes over.